The Artificial Intelligence Arms Race: Where Are We Now?

artificial intelligence

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… as the Pentagon’s efforts to bring artificial intelligence more comprehensively into its operations continue, this week we’ll be looking at 1) the current status of the DOD’s Office of the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer, 2) developments in recent months related to the DOD and AI, and 3) how current efforts at the Pentagon figure into concerns about an “Artificial Intelligence arms race”.

Quote of the Week

“By far the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it.”

― Eliezer Yudkowsky

Before we dive into things, a few of the stories we’re covering this week includes new research on perception that feeds into the debate that reality is, fundamentally, just an illusion, as well as how a smart device is tricking metals into behaving like more valuable metals used in electronic devices, helping with the metal shortage.

Meanwhile in video news, The Debrief’s Chrissy Newton caught up with YouTuber Andy Marcial for a discussion about DHS footage which purportedly shows unidentified aerial phenomena. Be sure to check out all of our video news, podcasts, and more over on our official YouTube channel. And as always, you’ll find a complete listing of all our  latest stories at the end of this newsletter.
Now, it’s time to take a look at recent developments related to the U.S. military’s use of artificial intelligence, and what that could mean within the context of geopolitical dynamics in the years ahead.


The Pentagon’s AI Efforts Are Going Full Steam Ahead

Earlier this month, the Department of Defense announced that it reached full operational capability with a new office that will oversee its digital and artificial intelligence (AI) enterprises.

Last week it was reported that the Office of the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer (CDAO) had completed the fulfillment of its personnel positions with an additional pair of new hires. Serving as deputy to the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office, Algorithmic Warfare will be Joe Larson, who previously held a similar position within the DOD’s Project Maven.

The second position within the CDAO, which will oversee its Responsible Artificial Intelligence Division, will be held by Diane Staheli, whose background involves data analytics and AI ethics with MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.

As part of the DOD’s recent makeover of its digital and artificial intelligence-enabled offices, the newly equipped CDOA will lead the Department’s efforts to establish its digital infrastructure of the coming decades, ultimately aiming to enable data and AI capabilities in the event of future crises, combat situations, and a host of other military applications.


Background: The Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer

“The Department of Defense must become a digital and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled enterprise capable of operating at the speed and scale necessary to preserve military advantage,” wrote Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks in a memo dated February 1, 2022.

uap report

“The Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer (CDAO) and its supporting Office (OCDAO) are charged with ensuring it does,” Hicks added, outlining its functions that include oversight of the Pentagon’s strategy development and policy formulation for data, analytics, and AI. This, along with an aim to “break down barriers to data and AI adoption within appropriate DoD institutional processes” and to “create enabling digital infrastructure and services that support Component’s development and deployments of data, analytics, AI, and digital-enabled solutions.”

In April, the DOD announced that Dr. Craig Martell would fill the position of Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer. “Dr. Martell brings extensive industry experience and expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning,” read a Pentagon statement, outlining his role in serving “as the department’s senior official responsible for accelerating the adoption of data, analytics, digital solutions, and AI functions to generate decision advantage from the boardroom to the battlefield.”

Martell served in the past as a tenured professor at the Naval Postgraduate School with a focus on computer science and natural language processing. Prior to his position as the Pentagon’s CDAO, Martell had previously worked as the head of machine learning for Lyft, along with stints working for Dropbox and LinkedIn.

However, now that things are getting under way with the DOD’s AI efforts, what could this really mean going forward, and are concerns related to an “artificial intelligence arms race” warranted?


Increasing Competition, and the Artificial Intelligence Arms Race

During its recent DoD Digital and AI Symposium online event, CDAO’s new deputy chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, Margie Palmieri, described CDAO’s efforts in language familiar to those drawing from experience with AI in the private sector.

“Companies go into mergers and acquisitions to be competitive… that’s exactly what the Department of Defense is doing. We are increasing our competitive advantage by bringing these different groups together,” Palmieri said.

“And for the first time in my career of over 15 years in government at this point, all the right levers of change and influence are coming into play in the CDAO,” Palmieria added, expressing that for CDAO to “show what a different operating model looks like is one of our top priorities.”


The CDAO’s efforts to leverage its assets come amidst rising concerns about the unforeseen effects of the U.S. military’s role in the development of AI for use on the battlefield. Writing for Foreign Affairs back in May, Michael C. Horowitz, Lauren Kahn, and Laura Resnick Samotin noted what they called “dueling risks” that could result from AI.

“If it moves too slowly, Washington could be overtaken by its competitors, jeopardizing national security,” the authors wrote. “But if it moves too fast, it may compromise on safety and build AI systems that breed deadly accidents. Although the former is a larger risk than the latter, it is critical that the United States take safety concerns seriously.”

One of the greatest strategic challenges the U.S. currently faces in this sphere has to do with rising concerns over the transfer of dual-use AI-driven technologies by countries like China, which can be adapted for use in weapons systems. The reality of the AI arms race that is currently underway is even more apparent considering increasing geopolitical stresses like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the realignment of economic and strategic assets in its aftermath.

The increased use of artificial intelligence by world superpowers will almost inevitably mean that the next Cold War will come to fruition not just within a political or economic context, but primarily within the digital landscape. Thus, with its access to data-driven resources, the U.S. is right to be concerned about how foregin adversaries like China may be able to gain foothold with AI, especially as the DOD continues to improve its own strategies and capabilities.

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] thedebrief [dot] org, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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