Joint AI Center (JAIC) Acting Director Nand Mulchandani

U.S. Defense: AI Weaponry Could Keep Bad Actors at Bay

While most leaders are focused on the COVID-19 pandemic or the latest round of protests going on globally, the New Cold War hasn’t captured nearly as many headlines. China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran all conduct adversarial activities that keep our protective agencies busy.

One such agency is the Joint AI Center, or JAIC. It’s tasked with building weapons to protect our nation by attacking other nations’ computer systems and protecting our own.

JAIC acting director Nand Mulchandani said one of the agency’s first lethal AI projects is proceeding into a testing phase now. The JAIC was founded in 2018 as the Pentagon’s AI department. Mulchandani called the project “tactical edge AI” that will involve full human control and likened it to JAIC’s “flagship product” for joint warfighting operations.

“It is true that many of the products we work on will go into weapons systems. None of them right now are going to be autonomous weapon systems, we’re still governed by 3000.09,” he said. “The word lethality, and I think this is where the killer robot and Terminator stuff comes in, the edge case that everyone focuses on is such an outer edge case, and we are nowhere near it from a platforms, technology, capability, hardware, software, algorithms perspective to get anywhere close or near to that, but that obviously is where everybody jumps to.”

DoD Directive 3000.09 dictates how armed services branches of the military are allowed to automate weapons systems. Mulchandani is infamous for Project Maven, which led to protests by Google employees who didn’t want to contribute to an autonomous weapon.

In an interview in May, Mulchandani told VentureBeat he worked for Silicon Valley startups before coming to the Pentagon a year ago. Mulchandani and the JAIC discussed a wide range of topics in a press conference including a “global war for AI talent” in the context of increasingly restrictive U.S. immigration policy. He claims that the United States continues to lead in AI compared to China in many areas.

Mulchandani said Chinese advances ahead of the U.S.  in areas like facial recognition are due to human rights restrictions in the U.S. military. He said JAIC is not currently testing any form of facial recognition. Meanwhile, plenty of private U.S. companies are doing so. Hundreds of U.S. tech companies have defense contracts for tech development.

“It is not that the United States military is technologically incapable of developing such systems. It’s that our constitution and privacy laws protect the rights of U.S. citizens, and it’s how their data is collected and used, and therefore we simply don’t invest in building such universal surveillance and censorship systems,” he said.

Information Warfare is one of six JAIC mission initiatives. Use of AI techniques such as natural language processing (NLP) to condense and process information, including some supplied by private businesses, will play a role in information warfare efforts, he said. NLP will also be at the center of Joint All Domain Command and Control systems, an initiative to help commanders triage communications.

Mulchandani talked about “huge potential for using AI in offensive capabilities” in areas like cybersecurity. Mulchandani said it would help with “vulnerability discovery and weaknesses in networks.” Lt Gen. Shanahan also promotes  algorithmic warfare.