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What we're reading: Military needs AI help from companies like Google

A drone on a tarmac in an undisclosed base in the the Persian Gulf region
Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Artificial intelligence will play an increasing role in the U.S. military, a top Air Force general told journalists on Thursday, according a Defense One report. James Holmes, the leader of the Air Force's Air Combat Command, said the government needs to work with technology companies to develop AI for military.

The big picture: After it was revealed that Google was participating in Project Maven, thousands of Google employees signed a petition and some even resigned in protest. Google decided that it won't renew its contract when it expires next year.

Dissent "is part of being an American," Holmes said Thursday about Google's decision, but added that he was concerned the company's high-profile withdrawal would keep other companies from collaborating with the military.

  • Robert Work, the former deputy defense secretary who commissioned Project Maven when he was in office, offered less charitable words earlier in the week, at a Defense One summit. Work said Google's participation could have saved lives, and that he was "alarmed" the company pulled out.
  • Gregory C. Allen, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, argued that AI researchers should engage in reasonable military AI projects in an article published in Nature earlier this month. He wrote:
It will take input from talented AI researchers, including those at companies such as Google, to help the military to stay on the right side of ethical lines.

Our thought bubble: Google's abstinence in this particular case doesn't mean Silicon Valley will shy away from military contracts — it hasn't, and it won't — or even that Google itself isn't pursuing other leads. The company recently pitched its AI prowess at a gathering for special operations forces, Defense One reported. But it did promise this month not to develop AI for use in weapons.

P.S. Holmes said Project Maven probably isn't the first step toward building Skynet, the AI system that went rogue in the Terminator series.