AI expert who was involved in Project Maven, the DoD’s program to accelerate artificial intelligence and machine learning for military uses—said that “constructive engagement” with the armed forces was necessary to avoid bad decisions.
In June, Google said it would no longer work with Project Maven after more than 4,000 employees signed a letter that accused the company of being “in the business of war.”
But speaking at EmTech Digital, MIT Technology Review’s AI conference, McCord said that it would be better for society as a whole to see such collaborations continue, and for those dissenting employees involved in AI projects to reexamine their stance.
“Most here today would agree that militaries and their role in deterrence, offense, and defense are a part of the world, and they will be for the foreseeable future,” he said. “A strategy of constructive engagement versus one of opting out is a far more optimal one.”
“Working on AI for defense does not make you less principled,” he added.
The secretive nature of Project Maven, which was said to be focused on improving analysis of footage captured by military drones, had caused concern across a wide group of AI researchers. But the US armed forces remain a “powerful force for promoting peace and stability in the world,” said McCord, reflecting arguments that AI researchers who reject the military on principle are actually handing the advantage to those with less rigorous ethical standards, including other nations.
While McCord said he would not expect “antiwar pacifists” to change their minds, he asked researchers to consider what would happen if other countries were making their own advances in emerging fields. A more positive attitude to the military was particularly important, he added, since governments now play a lesser role in the development of new technological discoveries than they once did.
“At the end of the Cold War the locus of innovation shifted to the private sector,” he said. “The world has changed. The capacity for government, and the role of government, has been diminished to a point where it’s never been so low in my view. The net effect is that big tech companies have assumed the mantle—whether they wanted to or not—of being the arbiters. They’re often self-regulating.”