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An aerial view of the Pentagon. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

A new survey offers some evidence that most artificial intelligence experts are positive or neutral when it comes to working with the Pentagon on AI-enabled projects.

Why it matters: Employee concerns have led some tech companies to pull back from working on defense-related projects in the past, but for many in the AI world, the chance to work on intellectually challenging projects — and the Pentagon's not insignificant budget — seems too good to pass up.

What's happening: In a report released earlier this week — with the memorable title "'Cool Projects' or 'Expanding the Efficiency of the Murderous American War Machine?'" — researchers at CSET surveyed 160 AI professionals about their attitudes toward working on DoD projects.

  • They found nearly 40% were neutral and 38% were extremely or somewhat positive, while less than a quarter felt extremely or somewhat negative about working on a Pentagon-funded AI project.
  • While some respondents said they were motivated by patriotism, and the most popular area was in humanitarian-focused projects, the biggest draw was "in doing cutting-edge research on complex problems," says Catherine Aiken, a survey specialist at CSET and one of the co-authors of the report.

Flashback: In 2018, after thousands of employees signed a protest letter, Google CEO Sundar Pichai pulled out of a contract to work on Project Maven, a DoD-funded pilot AI program to develop computer vision algorithms.

  • "The belief [in Silicon Valley] is somehow that the military shouldn’t have these technologies," says Anduril's Schimpf.

Yes, but: That narrative was "overblown," argues New America's Singer.

  • In the wake of Google's decision, both Microsoft and Amazon continued forward with bids on the Pentagon's $10 billion cloud-computing contract, despite some employee blowback.

Between the lines: That doesn't mean the controversies will end.

  • What separates AI from many other technologies is its general nature. The same underlying technology that powers a computer vision algorithm could be used for humanitarian purposes as well as for lethal warfare.

The bottom line: Unlike military technologies in the past such as radar or nuclear weapons, cutting-edge research in AI is overwhelmingly dominated by the private sector. That means the Pentagon needs Silicon Valley — and needs to understand it.

Go deeper

The defense industry worries about Biden

Data: FactSet; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

America's defense contractors aren't celebrating Joe Biden's victory. They haven't accepted defeat yet, but they are digging in for budgetary battles.

Why it matters: The biggest companies in the military-industrial complex tend to see increasing revenues only under Republican presidents.

2 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

2 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."