A top Air Force commander has assured reporters that no, the military’s experiments with artificial intelligence are not the first step toward “Skynet,” the evil defense network in the “Terminator” movies that tried to wipe out humanity.
Google recently announced that it will not work with the Pentagon beyond its 2017 contract on Project Maven, an effort to have artificial intelligence help analyze footage from drones.
Speaking at a Defense Writers Group breakfast on Thursday morning, Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, said that the purpose of Project Maven is to determine whether “machines can learn to do the things that people are doing.”
Holmes went on to explain that the Air Force does not have enough people to watch all of the full motion video taken from drones, so airmen are using so-called “learning algorithms” to teach machines what to look for in the endless footage.
“The way we’ve been doing that kind of the same way I watch 3-year-olds learn things on their iPads“,” Holmes said. “Pick all the green things. Is that green? No. Is that green? Yes. So you do the same thing with a machine.”
When machines recognize something important in the drone footage they can alert intelligence analysts, Holmes continued. Having machines do the repetitive tasks frees up people to “focus on things that people do best” and allows decision-makers to get important information quicker.
A related effort is Air Operations Center Pathfinder, in which coders and operators work together to quickly develop software that reduces the time needed to plan mission, task aircraft, and develop targets.
The Pentagon’s interest in artificial intelligence has raised concerns in Silicon Valley. Executives with Google, a subcontractor for Project Maven, said in June 7 statements that the company “would not support the use of AI for weaponized systems,” though it would continue to work with military on cybersecurity, recruitment, veterans’ healthcare and search and rescue.
Holmes said he is confident that the Air Force can continue to work with Silicon Valley to develop artificial intelligence technologies that can deter wars by making sure that enemies know that any attack against the United States is doomed to fail.
“What I would like to do is convince people that we’re all in the business of avoiding major war,” Holmes said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re going to have to rely on our industrial capabilities that are on that business and AI side if we’re going to do that. So how we can work together to set a rule set so we can go forward?”
But for decades Hollywood has been warning us that artificial intelligence will inevitably go rogue. So, naturally, Task & Purpose asked Holmes directly if Project Maven is the first step toward Skynet.
“I certainly hope not,” he replied.
To ease concerns about a possible robot insurrection, Holmes pointed to the fact that, although learning machines have beat experts at chess, Go, and other games, they are far less effective without the assistance of experienced human operators.
“We’re going to have to work through as Americans our comfort level on how technologies are used and how they are applied,” Holmes said. “I understand the views of the people there. It goes into being a member of the military: I wield some pretty impressive technologies and our job is to make sure that we use them for good and in accordance with the rules that are laid out in the Constitution.”
“These are all complex issues that we’ll have to work through, but I’m not worried yet about AOC Pathfinder taking over as Skynet,” Holmes added.
Rarely depicted visually in any of the Terminator media, Skynet gained self-awareness after it had spread into millions of computer servers all across the world; realizing the extent of its abilities, its creators tried to deactivate it. In the interest of self-preservation, Skynet concluded that all of humanity would attempt to destroy it and impede its capability in safeguarding the world. Its operations are almost exclusively performed by servers, mobile devices, drones, military satellites, war-machines, androids and cyborgs (usually a terminator), and other computer systems. As a programming directive, Skynet’s manifestation is that of an overarching, global, artificial intelligence hierarchy (AI takeover), which seeks to exterminate the human race in order to fulfill the mandates of its original coding.
Skynet made its first onscreen appearance on a monitor primarily portrayed by English actress Helena Bonham Carter and other cast members in the 2009 film Terminator Salvation. Its physical manifestation is played by English actor Matt Smith in the 2015 film Terminator Genisys, in addition, actors Ian Etheridge, Nolan Gross and Seth Meriwether portrayed holographic variations of Skynet with Smith.
In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which is set following the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cyberdyne Systems has become defunct and its assets are sold to the United States Air Force after Sarah Connor led an attack on the company’s headquarters in Los Angeles that destroyed the research program that would lead to Skynet’s development. Under the supervision of Lieutenant General Robert Brewster, who founded the U.S. Air Force‘s Cyber Research Systems division using Cyberdyne’s assets and research from Miles Dyson and therefore is Skynet’s primary creator, Skynet went online on July 25, 2004 and initiated its attack on humanity. Prior to Skynet’s attack, its future self sent a T-X from 2033 to eliminate John Connor’s future subordinates including his future wife and second-in-command, Kate Brewster, who is also Robert Brewster’s daughter. Its missions include finding Connor and assassinating Robert Brewster himself after Skynet’s activation. Fourteen years later, in Terminator Salvation, it is revealed that prior to Cyberdyne Systems’ disestablishment, the company developed a research program to create human cyborgs, and death row inmate Marcus Wright was its unwitting participant. This later advances Skynet’s research in developing androids such as the T-800 series infiltrators.
In Terminator Genisys, which takes place in another alternate timeline, Skynet is under development in 2017 as an operating system known as Genisys. Funded by Miles Dyson and designed by his son Danny Dyson, along with the help of John Connor, now working for Skynet, Genisys was designed to provide a seamless user interface that link all devices through the cloud. In contrast to the original timeline, Cyberdyne Systems’ advanced computer technology is available both publicly and militarily.
While some people generally accept Genisys, its integration into the defense structures creates a controversy that humanity was becoming too reliant on technology. This causes the public to fear that an artificial intelligence such as Genisys would betray and attack them with their own weapons, risking Skynet’s plans.
DoD stands up its artificial intelligence hub
WASHINGTON – The Defense Department has formally ordered the creation of a new hub for artificial intelligence research with Dana Deasy, the Pentagon’s new chief information officer, taking the lead.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan ordered the move in a June 27, 2018, memo. The Pentagon’s goal is to launch a series of AI projects known as National Mission Initiatives within 90 days – as well as taking over the controversial Project Maven.
The office will be known as the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), with the goal of enabling “teams across DoD to swiftly deliver new AI-enabled capabilities and effectively experiment with new operating concepts in support of DoD’s military missions and business functions,” according to DoD spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza.
Put another way, the group will have the “overarching goal of accelerating the delivery of AI-enabled capabilities, scaling the Department-wide impact of AI, and synchronizing DoD AI activities to expand Joint Force advantages,” according to a copy of the memo posted by Breaking Defense.
“This effort is a Department priority. Speed and security are of the essence,” Shanahan wrote. “I expect all offices and personnel to provide all reasonable support necessary to make rapid enterprise-wide AI adoption a reality.”
Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan directed the DoD Chief Information Officer to standup the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) in order to enable teams across DoD to swiftly deliver new AI-enabled capabilities and effectively experiment with new operating concepts in support of DoD’s military missions and business functions.
The idea of standing up an AI center was first confirmed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on April 12, but it has been championed by the Defense Innovation Board, a group of outside experts who advise the secretary on potential updates to how the Pentagon handles evolving technologies.
According to Michael Griffin, the head of Pentagon research and engineering, the department counts 592 projects as having some form of AI in them. However, Griffin said in April 18 testimony that he did not believe every one of those projects makes sense to roll into some sort of AI hub.
That concern appears to be reflected in Shanahan’s memo, which orders that any AI project with a budget of $15 million or more should be coordinated with the services in order to ensure “DoD is creating Department-wide advantages.”
In terms of budget, Shanahan ordered the Pentagon’s comptroller to find options for funding during the current fiscal year, but the major focus is on driving resources for fiscal year 2019 and beyond. Given the support for artificial intelligence research on the Hill, it is likely the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY19 will include some funding for the new office.
The movement of Project Maven to the JAIC is notable. A DoD initiative to accelerate the integration of big data and machine learning, largely drawing on video feeds from unmanned systems, Maven in the last month has become a poster child for the clash of cultures between the defense department and Silicon Valley.
Google was working hand-in-hand with the Pentagon on the project, until a backlash from the company’s employees, who argued in an open letter signed by more than 3,000 workers that it did not want to “build warfare technology.” Moving the program to the JAIC may be an attempt to keep the project underway without Google’s participation.