Preparing the Military for a Role on an Artificial Intelligence Battlefield

Preparing the Military for a Role on an Artificial Intelligence Battlefield

Megan Lamberth

Security, Americas

The Pentagon could emerge as a leader and a model for how to ensure ethics are embedded into artificial intelligence systems.

The Defense Innovation Board—an advisory committee of tech executives, scholars, and technologists—has unveiled its list of ethical principles for artificial intelligence (AI). If adopted by the Defense Department, then the recommendations will help shape the Pentagon’s use of AI in both combat and non-combat systems. The board’s principles are an important milestone that should be celebrated, but the real challenge of adoption and implementation is just beginning. For the principles to have an impact, the department will need strong leadership from the Joint AI Center (JAIC), buy-in from senior military leadership and outside groups, and additional technical expertise within the Defense Department. 

In its white paper, the board recognizes that the AI field is constantly evolving and that the principles it proposes represent guidelines the department should aim for as it continues to design and field AI-enabled technologies. The board recommends that the Defense Department should aspire to develop and deploy AI systems that are: 

1. Responsible. The first principle establishes accountability, putting the onus on the human being for not only the “development, deployment, [and] use” of an AI system, but most importantly, any “outcomes” that system produces. The burden rests on the human being, not the AI.  

2. Equitable. The second principle calls on the DoD to take “deliberate steps” to minimize “unintended bias” in AI systems. The rise of facial recognition technology and the subsequent issues of algorithmic biases show that the board is right to prioritize mitigating potential biases, particularly as the DoD continues to develop AI systems with national security applications. 

3. Traceable. The third principle addresses the need for technical expertise within the Defense Department to ensure that AI engineers have an “appropriate understanding of the technology” and the insight of how a system arrives at its outcome.

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