The military's stance seems directly at odds with the signatories of last week's pledge against autonomous weapons.

ALL EYES ON AI. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is going all-in on AI. The department, which oversees everything pertaining to the U.S.'s national security and armed forces, has been tossing around the idea of establishing a center focused on artificial intelligence (AI) since October 2016. On June 27, the idea became a reality when Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan issued a memo officially establishing the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC).

The JAIC will serve as the military's AI center, housing the DoD's 600 or so AI projects. According to a request the DoD submitted to Congress in June, the center will cost an estimated $1.7 billion over the next six years.

"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," Department of Defense spokeswoman Heather Babb told Futurism.

AT THE JAIC. In his memo, Shanahan notes that advances in AI will likely change the nature of warfare and that the military needs a new approach to AI that will allow it to rapidly integrate any advances into its operations and "way of fighting." He believes the military's AI center could help in those efforts by focusing on four areas of need:

  • Helping the military execute its National Mission Initiatives (NMIs). These are large-scale AI projects designed to address groups of urgent, related challenges.
  • Creating a DoD-wide foundation for the execution of AI. This would mean finding a way to make any AI-related tools, data, technologies, experts, and processes available to the entire DoD quickly and efficiently.
  • Improving collaboration on AI projects both within the DoD and with outside parties, such as U.S. allies, private companies, and academics.
  • Working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to determine how to govern and standardize AI development and delivery.

CROSSING THE LINE. Last week, many of the biggest names in AI research from the private sector and academia took a stand against autonomous weapons, machines that use AI to decide whether or not to attempt to kill a person. Signatories of the pledge vowed to never work on any such projects; one even called autonomous weapons "as disgusting and destabilizing as bioweapons."

By establishing an AI center, the U.S. government makes its stance clear: Not only does it see AI as an inevitable part of the future of war, it wants to be the best at implementing it. As Shanahan wrote in an email to DoD employees, “Plenty of people talk about the threat from AI; we want to be the threat.”

READ MORE: Pentagon’s Joint AI Center Is ‘Established,’ but There’s Much More to Figure Out [FedScoop]

More on autonomous weapons: Top AI Experts Vow They Won’t Help Create Lethal Autonomous Weapons

Editor’s note 7/23/18 at 3:15 PM: This piece was updated to include statements from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and DoD spokesperson Heather Babb.

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