Pentagon adopts ethical principles to guide development, use of artificial intelligence   

By Justin Doubleday / February 24, 2020 at 1:38 PM

The Pentagon today announced the adoption of ethical principles for artificial intelligence first recommended by technology advisers last fall.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved the principles recommended by the Defense Innovation Board. The board, which is largely comprised of private sector technology executives, spent more than a year gathering feedback from a wide range of industry, academia and the general public before settling on the recommendations in late October.

"The United States, together with our allies and partners, must accelerate the adoption of AI and lead in its national security applications to maintain our strategic position, prevail on future battlefields, and safeguard the rules-based international order," Esper said in a statement. "AI technology will change much about the battlefield of the future, but nothing will change America's steadfast commitment to responsible and lawful behavior. The adoption of AI ethical principles will enhance the department's commitment to upholding the highest ethical standards as outlined in the DOD AI Strategy, while embracing the U.S. military's strong history of applying rigorous testing and fielding standards for technology innovations."

The adoption of the principles come as the Pentagon has already invested heavily in AI developments over the past several years and is now asking Congress for a funding increase for AI in fiscal year 2021 as it prioritizes using AI technologies for "warfighting operations."

Defense Innovation Board Chairman Erich Schmidt, the former chief executive at Google who remains a technical adviser at parent company Alphabet, lauded the adoption of the principles in a quote included in DOD's announcement.

"Secretary Esper's leadership on AI and his decision to issue AI Principles for the department demonstrates not only to DOD, but to countries around the world, that the U.S. and DOD are committed to ethics, and will play a leadership role in ensuring democracies adopt emerging technology responsibly," Schmidt said.

The "focal point" for implementing the DOD principles will be the department's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, according to today’s announcement. The JAIC is currently led by Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan and reports to DOD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy.

According to the announcement, the five overarching principles adopted by the Pentagon are:

  • "Responsible. DOD personnel will exercise appropriate levels of judgment and care, while remaining responsible for the development, deployment, and use of AI capabilities."
  • "Equitable. The department will take deliberate steps to minimize unintended bias in AI capabilities."
  • "Traceable. The Department's AI capabilities will be developed and deployed such that relevant personnel possess an appropriate understanding of the technology, development processes, and operational methods applicable to AI capabilities, including with transparent and auditable methodologies, data sources, and design procedure and documentation."
  • "Reliable. The Department's AI capabilities will have explicit, well-defined uses, and the safety, security, and effectiveness of such capabilities will be subject to testing and assurance within those defined uses across their entire life-cycles."
  • "Governable. The Department will design and engineer AI capabilities to fulfill their intended functions while possessing the ability to detect and avoid unintended consequences, and the ability to disengage or deactivate deployed systems that demonstrate unintended behavior."