An independent commission charged with helping the United States prepare for an era of AI-enabled warfare disbanded last month. Many of its recommendations already are being implemented.
What’s new: Wired examined the legacy of the National Security Commission. Its recommendations have been enshrined in over 190 laws this year alone.
What they accomplished: The commission, whose 15 members were drawn from government, academia and industry (including executives from Amazon, Google, and Oracle), was founded in 2018 and delivered its final report earlier this year. It took a broad view that emphasized nurturing AI talent and fostering international cooperation (under U.S. leadership). It also recommended integrating AI into regular military operations, using the technology to drive intelligence gathering and analysis, and developing fully autonomous weapons (for use only when authorized by commanders in accordance with international law).
- Lawmakers incorporated 19 of the committee’s recommendations into the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, former commission spokesperson Tara Rigler told The Batch. These address military needs such as evaluating recruits’ proficiency in computational thinking, but also non-military priorities like funding for non-defense AI research and training human resource departments to cultivate AI talent.
- In January, the State Department formed a cyberspace bureau in response to the committee’s concerns, Rigler said. Its mission includes upgrading digital security, reducing the likelihood of AI-driven conflict, and ensuring that the U.S. would prevail if conflict were to arise. (Earlier this year, a government audit determined that the bureau had not explained how it would accomplish its goals without interfering with a different agency that has a similar mission.
Yes, but: Critics argue the commission’s promotion of military AI could drive an arms race akin to the one that led the U.S. and Russia to stockpile tens of thousands of nuclear weapons between the 1940s and 1990s. They say that the group’s adversarial stance toward geopolitical competitors could further degrade global stability. Others warn that the resulting relationship between the military and private companies could incentivize conflict.
Why It matters: Technology is moving fast, and the U.S. has lagged other national efforts to keep pace. A defense-focused roadmap is an important step, yet it invites questions about the nation’s ambitions and values.
We’re thinking: The commission’s emphases on accountability, cultivating AI talent, collaborating with allies, and using AI to uphold democratic principles are laudable. At the same time, it raises difficult questions about how to uphold national security in the face of disruptive technologies. We oppose fully autonomous weapons and encourage every member of the AI community to work toward a peaceful, prosperous future that benefits people throughout the world.