WASHINGTON: The Pentagon has created a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) that will have oversight over almost all service and defense agency AI efforts. This coordination function is crucial to the emerging AI arms race with Russia and China, experts told us.
The JAIC will report to Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy, the establishing memo by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says. Its ambit is not quite untrammeled; any projects under $15 million remain the authority of the service or agency. The JAIC will establish a common set of AI “standards…. tools, shared data, reusable technology, processes, and expertise” for the whole Defense Department, according to the June 27 memo.
Undersecretary for Research & Engineering Mike Griffin, a far more prominent proponent of AI and other cutting-edge technologies who has warned China and Russia are catching up to the US, “will continue to promote development of new AI technologies, systems, and concepts” but without any clearly specified role in the new center.
CIO Deasy has 30 days to consult the rest of the department and report back with a list of initial “National Mission Initiatives” for JAIC to start working on in 90 days, by September 27. Even though that start date is just three days before the end of fiscal year 2018, ’18 funding will be made available ASAP to “enable implementation of select AI initiatives in FY 18,” the memo makes clear. The ’18 funds may well require congressional approval for a budget reprogramming action, while 2019 money will require an amendment or supplement to appropriations bills already moving through Congress.
Shanahan specifies that the first National Mission Initiative will be the controversial Project Maven, already in progress. Google is withdrawing from its Maven contract after employees objected that the military’s use of Google AI to analyze surveillance video could be used to target lethal drone strikes. (Project Maven founder and former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has countered it could also save lives by killing terrorists before they attack or preventing US strikes that might cause collateral damage. He also notes that Google is working with elements of the Chinese government on AI.) No doubt with this debate in mind, Shanahan writes in the very first paragraph of the memo that “we must pursue AI applications with boldness and alacrity while ensuring strong commitment to military ethics and AI safety.”
Shanahan directs CIO Deasy to consult with the services, Joint Staff, combatant commands, and other DoD entities on the initial list of National Mission Initiatives. Those entities, in return, are to “coordinate” with the CIO on “each AI initiative that totals more than $15 million annually,” although that threshold “will be reviewed annually as investments in AI mature” — which presumably means it’ll go up as AI projects become more routine. (For scale, Google’s initial Project Maven contract was just $9 million, but the company projected it would swiftly grow to $15 million and ultimately $250 million).
JAIC will also coordinate with other government agencies, “industry, academics, and U.S. allies,” the memo says. UPDATE BEGINS “Harnessing the strengths of industry and academia (is crucial) and that is explicitly called out,” said Larry Lewis, director of CNA’s Center for Autonomy and AI. “It’s not necessarily going to be easy, but including the discussion about ethics and AI safety (so prominently) is going to be an important piece of that.”
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