Artificial intelligence is expected to be a key capability for the US military to maintain military dominance. The United States Department of Defense’s (DoD) engagement with large private-sector high-tech companies, for which the military represents a relatively small percentage of their customer base, provides a valuable means of accessing cutting-edge AI capabilities and AI software developers and engineers.
To gauge the views of software engineers and other technical personnel in the private sector on potential applications of AI within the DoD, a research team conducted a survey presenting various scenarios describing how the US military could use AI and asked respondents to describe their level of comfort with using AI in this way.
The scenarios had several factors, including the degree of distance from the battlefield, the destructiveness of the action, and the degree of human oversight over the AI algorithm. The results of this RAND survey showed that most U.S. AI experts do not oppose the DoD’s core mission or the use of AI for many military applications.
There doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable gap between Silicon Valley and the DoD.
– Respondents at Silicon Valley tech companies and alumni of universities with top-tier computer science departments are comfortable with various military applications of AI.
There is a significant difference in comfort level for AI applications that involve the use of lethal force.
– About a third of respondents from the three Silicon Valley tech companies surveyed feel uncomfortable with deadly AI use cases.
Tech workers have little trust in leaders, even their own.
– Software engineers and other technology workers have little trust in people in leadership positions.
– They trust the CEOs of tech companies almost as little as they trust elected officials or heads of federal agencies.
Tech workers are most concerned about cyber threats to the United States.
– More than 75% of respondents also see China and Russia as serious threats to the United States.
Technology professionals support the use of military force to defend against foreign aggression.
– Respondents expressed strong support for the use of military force to defend the United States and its NATO allies against foreign aggression, with nearly 90% of respondents believing that the use of military force is justified in these circumstances.
Silicon Valley tech workers have few personal ties to the military
– Less than 2% of Silicon Valley respondents have served in the US armed forces.
– Nearly 20% of software engineers working for defense contractors had previously served in the US military.
Mechanisms should be explored to expand collaborations between the Department of Defense and Silicon Valley companies regarding threats posed by cyberattacks, a potential application of AI that Silicon Valley engineers see as a critical global threat.
Expanding engagements between personnel involved in military operations, DoD technical experts, and individual Silicon Valley contributors (non-managerial employees) working in technical roles should be explored to assess possible avenues for developing greater trust between organizations.
Consideration should be given to the potential benefits of the Department of Defense engaging Silicon Valley engineers on some of the details of the Department of Defense’s use of AI; it would also be worth considering how the military views the nuanced and complex situations in which AI would be used.
The value of creating opportunities for DoD and Silicon Valley employees to commit to common values and principles should be explored, as well as the potential benefits of such an approach. DoD Ethical Principles for AI Recently published show that the DoD itself is not comfortable with some potential uses of AI: this could be the basis for a conversation with engineers in Silicon Valley about what AI should and shouldn’t not serve.
Another potentially fruitful area of investigation would be to assess the benefits and tailor various types of engagements to help the most innovative and experienced U.S. AI experts learn how the DoD accomplishes its mission and discover how their talents and their expertise can help solve DoD and national problems.
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Exploration of the civil-military divide on intelligence
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