In February, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), which audits and evaluates government activities on behalf of the US Congress, published a study examining the Department of Defense’s approach to developing and deploying artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in weapon systems and assessing the current status of ‘war-fighting’ AI in the US military. The GAO report gives an important insight into how the world’s most powerful military plans to use AI in combat. It also raises a number of important ethical issues which our own Parliament should also be investigating in relation to the UK’s own military AI programmes.
The GAO study concludes that although the US Department of Defense (DoD) is “actively pursuing AI capabilities,” the majority of AI activities supporting warfighting (as opposed to undertaking business and maintenance tasks) remain at the research and development stage as DoD attempts to address the differences between ‘AI’ and traditional computer software. Research efforts are currently focused on developing autonomy for drones and other uncrewed systems, recognizing targets, and providing recommendations to commanders on the battlefield. Reflecting the US’ interest in military AI, the budget for the DOD’s Joint AI Center has increased dramatically from $89 million in 2019 to $278 million in 2021. In total the Joint AI Center has spent approximately $610 million on AI programmes over the past three years, although the GAO considers that it is too soon to assess the effectiveness of this spending. Read more