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The Pentagon is going to spend $2 billion on AI because things are getting serious now

DARPA artificial intelligence

If North Korea’s dear leader wakes up tomorrow, takes a crazy pill and decides to lob a nuclear missile at the U.S. mainland, there’s a good chance the military will be relying on artificial intelligence to protect us.

Reuters reported earlier this summer on the existence of a secretive military effort — actually, of multiple classified programs in various stages that are all focused on the development of AI-reliant systems to help us anticipate the launch of a missile, as well as to track launchers. In North Korea and, of course, beyond.

Fears about runaway AI notwithstanding, the Pentagon is now apparently taking that kind of an effort and planning to crank it up to 11. The Pentagon’s research agency DARPA announced today it will be spending $2 billion on AI, the focus of which, according to CNN, will include “creating systems with common sense, contextual awareness and better energy efficiency. Advances could help the government automate security clearances, accredit software systems and make AI systems that explain themselves.”

John Everett, the deputy director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office, told CNN the agency’s new investment may ultimately get even bigger than that $2 billion. The way he put it — the agency thinks it can accelerate two decades of progress into five years.

In many respects, it’s an investment that comes not a moment too soon. Other nations are likewise making no secret about stepping up their investments into AI, and probably our strongest rival in this area, China, has said it wants to be the global leader in a few years.

During his appearance this week on Joe Rogan’s podcast, noted AI-phobe Elon Musk said he thinks one reason China is poised to potentially take the lead is because of how its politicians generally have a scientific bent. “They’re pretty good at science in China,” he said on the show. “The mayor of Beijing has, I believe, an environmental engineering degree, and the deputy mayor has a physics degree. I met them.”

Reuters‘ reporting in June uncovered that the Trump administration was proposing a tripling of funding in next year’s budget to $83 million for one of those AI-based missile efforts, a funding increase that had not been previously made public.

It’s a comparatively small amount when stacked up against adversaries like Russia and North Korea. But it shows how the U.S. military is getting more serious about relying on AI, whether it’s for missile systems or tools that have yet to be developed.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.

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