US Military Ramps Up AI Capabilities With $2 Billion Investment

Leading government research and development agency DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ) has announced that they will be putting $2 billion behind the next wave of AI-related military projects as part of a campaign called “AI Next” unveiled at the recent 50th-year anniversary of DARPA in Washington.

The agency which has its origins out of the Soviet Cold War has been a vital instrument in providing the government with cutting-edge research into military technology applications. Previous investments and developments from DARPA include The Internet, Siri, an early partnership with Google which yielded Google Maps.

DARPA director Steven Walker said at the conference that the money would be aimed at exploring “how machines can acquire human-like communication and reasoning capabilities.” and that, “Machines lack contextual reasoning capabilities, and their training must cover every eventuality, which is not only costly but ultimately impossible.”

This increase in budget spending all looks set to be part of a larger arms race with China who have set their ambitions on becoming leaders of the field by 2030. Comparatively speaking China’s AI market is set to be worth $150 billion by 2020. DARPA currently has about 25 programs focused on AI research.

Currently, paranoia continues to swarm around the general technological direction the US government is taking towards using AI in the military. Many in the intelligence and technology community have voiced their concerns about using algorithms for hostile purposes.
Donald Trump’s military hawks have urged for more insight, study and growth into the area but leaders of the field including Demis Hassabis of Deep Mind and Elon Musk have vowed not to commit their help out for fear of creating out of control algorithms which could operate autonomously towards humans.

In June of this year, Google announced that they would be discontinuing Project Maven, a collaboration with DARPA due to a chorus of people at the company who objected to the company working on any military AI applications.

But many experts in the community feel the paranoia is unjustified, speaking sceptically at the conference about the capability of AI applications in the military, Ron Brachman who spent three years managing DARPA’s AI programs said, “We probably need some gigantic Manhattan Project to create an AI system that has the competence of a three-year-old.”

As they are enlisted under the Department of Defense, many fear that agencies like DARPA have ambitions of building artificially intelligent military weapons. This includes tanks, drones, missiles, and machine guns. But to put this recent announcement into perspective, the $2 billion is tiny compared to the overall military spending of The United States with around $610 billion being allocated for defence in comparison to China’s $200 billion.

Take a look at this video if you want to get a snapshot of why people like Elon and Demis have spoken up: