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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.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.