Published on November 20, 2023, 12:27 pm

Navigating The Challenges And Potential Of Ai In The U.s. Military

The Pentagon’s chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, Craig Martell, has expressed concern over the potential of generative artificial intelligence (AI) systems like ChatGPT to deceive and spread disinformation. In a talk at the DefCon hacker convention in August, Martell highlighted the risks associated with unreliable AI. Despite this, he remains optimistic about the potential of reliable AI.

Martell, who previously led machine-learning efforts at companies such as LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Lyft before taking his current role last year, faces the challenge of leveraging data within the U.S. military while determining which AI systems can be trusted in warfare. This is particularly crucial in an increasingly unstable world where multiple countries are racing to develop lethal autonomous weapons.

In an interview, Martell explains that their main mission is to scale decision advantage from the boardroom to the battlefield. Rather than tackling specific missions, their goal is to develop tools, processes, infrastructure, and policies that allow the entire department to scale effectively. The ultimate aim is global information dominance.

When it comes to AI use in military applications, Martell views AI as a means of counting past data to predict future outcomes. He believes that modern AI is not fundamentally different from previous waves of AI technology.

Regarding China’s progress in the AI arms race, Martell disagrees with the comparison to a monolithic technology like nuclear arms. He emphasizes that AI consists of various technologies applied on a case-by-case basis, with each application tested empirically for effectiveness.

Martell explains that although his team assists Ukraine by building a database on how allies provide assistance through a project called Skyblue, they are not directly involved with Ukraine beyond that.

One hot topic surrounding AI is autonomous lethal weaponry such as attack drones. Martell posits that in military training with any new technology or system—including autonomous ones—confidence is developed over time by understanding its limits and capabilities. Comparing this concept to everyday examples like adaptive cruise control in cars, Martell emphasizes the importance of justified confidence in the technology.

In terms of computer vision technology distinguishing friend from foe in the Air Force’s “loyal wingman” program, Martell believes that computer vision has made significant advancements. However, its usefulness depends on the specific situation and the level of precision required for each use case. Testing and determining capability criteria are crucial steps in deploying AI technologies effectively.

Martell’s team is currently studying generative AI and large-language models. Although commercial large-language models may not always be reliable, they are examining over 160 use cases through Task Force Lima launched in August. Their goal is to identify low-risk and safe applications for generative AI, such as generating first drafts of written content or computer code that can be edited by humans or used for information retrieval.

Recruiting and retaining AI talent is a major challenge faced by the Pentagon due to high salaries offered by other industries. To address this issue, they are exploring innovative approaches such as hiring individuals for shorter periods or establishing diversity pipelines through recruitment at historically Black colleges and universities.

In conclusion, Craig Martell’s role involves navigating the challenges and potential of AI within the U.S. military. While he acknowledges the risks associated with unreliable AI systems like ChatGPT, his focus is on developing trustworthy tools that can provide decision advantage from boardrooms to battlefields. By leveraging high-quality data and applying AI technologies case-by-case, Martell aims to ensure that AI remains a source of strategic advantage for the Department of Defense.


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