An artificial intelligence commission led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is urging the U.S. to boost its AI skills to counter China, including by pursuing “AI-enabled” weapons — something that Google itself has shied away from on ethical grounds.
Schmidt and current executives from Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Amazon are among the 15 members of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which released its final report to Congress on Monday.
“To win in AI we need more money, more talent, stronger leadership,” Schmidt said Monday.
The report says that machines that can “perceive, decide, and act more quickly” than humans and with more accuracy are going to be deployed for military purposes — with or without the involvement of the U.S. and other democracies. It warns against unchecked use of autonomous weapons but expresses opposition to a global ban.
It also calls for “wise restraints” on the use of AI tools such as facial recognition that can be used for mass surveillance.
“We have to develop technology that preserves our Western values, but we have to be prepared for a world in which not everyone is doing that,” said Andrew Moore, a commissioner and the head of Google Cloud AI.
The group has the ear of top lawmakers from both parties, but has attracted criticism for including many members who work for tech companies with big government contracts, and who thus have a lot at stake in federal rules on emerging technology.
The report calls for a “White House-led strategy” to defend against AI-related threats, to set standards on how intelligent machines can be used responsibly and to boost U.S. research and development to maintain the nation’s technological advantage over China.
It’s not yet clear whether President Biden’s administration is on board with the commission’s approach. It’s still awaiting confirmation of a new director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which Biden has elevated to a Cabinet-level position.
The government-industry partnership may be important for the U.S. and its allies to help set standards for the responsible use of AI, said Megan Lamberth, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security.
“AI has the potential to really transform not only how militaries fight wars, but how economies operate and how societies and people interact with each other,” Lamberth said. “If there’s a gap in leadership, another country is going to fill that void.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Monday that the commission made useful recommendations but it should have gone further by establishing civil rights protections now, before AI systems are widely deployed by intelligence agencies and the military.