August 28, 2018

New defense policy a reminder that US is not alone in AI efforts

By Kathryn Dura

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019 is evidence the United States is developing a more robust artificial intelligence (AI) strategy. The new law includes two sections that take stock of current AI efforts, domestically and internationally, and it devises recommendations to maintain and accelerate U.S. research and adoption. In doing so, the bill demonstrates awareness of the concerns on the horizon – namely, public-private partnerships, ethics, and competition with China.

The first AI portion, Section 238, calls for the Secretary of Defense to create a strategic plan and coordinate the department’s AI efforts. To facilitate the strategic plan, the Department will leverage research relationships with “defense and private industries, research universities, and unaffiliated, nonprofit research institutions.” The provision also indirectly references the international competition surrounding this nascent technology by seeking recommendations to “educate, recruit, and retain leading talent” and leverage advances in commercial and academic research. Finally, this section calls for the development of ethical and legal AI policies in conjunction with the technology’s application.

In totality, this section aligns nicely with the newly established Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) with its emphasis on accelerating, scaling, and synchronizing Department of Defense AI activities through public-private partnerships while “ensuring strong commitment to military ethics and AI safety.” However, the NDAA portion has a broader research mandate, conducting a comprehensive review of previous Department initiatives in addition to planning and coordinating future actions.

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