This Is Not How ‘Skynet’ Begins, Air Force Says of Artificial Intelligence Efforts

news
Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
U.S. Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Joshua Strang.

A top Air Force commander has assured reporters that no, the military's experiments with artificial intelligence are not the first step toward “Skynet,” the evil defense network in the “Terminator” movies that tried to wipe out humanity.


Google recently announced that it will not work with the Pentagon beyond its 2017 contract on Project Maven, an effort to have artificial intelligence help analyze footage from drones.

Speaking at a Defense Writers Group breakfast on Thursday morning, Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, said that the purpose of Project Maven is to determine whether “machines can learn to do the things that people are doing.”

Holmes went on to explain that the Air Force does not have enough people to watch all of the full motion video taken from drones, so airmen are using so-called “learning algorithms” to teach machines what to look for in the endless footage.

“The way we’ve been doing that kind of the same way I watch 3-year-olds learn things on their iPads“,” Holmes said. “Pick all the green things. Is that green? No. Is that green? Yes. So you do the same thing with a machine.”

When machines recognize something important in the drone footage they can alert intelligence analysts, Holmes continued. Having machines do the repetitive tasks frees up people to “focus on things that people do best” and allows decision-makers to get important information quicker.

A related effort is Air Operations Center Pathfinder, in which coders and operators work together to quickly develop software that reduces the time needed to plan mission, task aircraft, and develop targets.

The Pentagon’s interest in artificial intelligence has raised concerns in Silicon Valley. Executives with Google, a subcontractor for Project Maven, said in June 7 statements that the company “would not support the use of AI for weaponized systems,” though it would continue to work with military on cybersecurity, recruitment, veterans’ healthcare and search and rescue.

Holmes said he is confident that the Air Force can continue to work with Silicon Valley to develop artificial intelligence technologies that can deter wars by making sure that enemies know that any attack against the United States is doomed to  fail.

“What I would like to do is convince people that we’re all in the business of avoiding major war,” Holmes said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re going to have to rely on our industrial capabilities that are on that business and AI side if we’re going to do that. So how we can work together to set a rule set so we can go forward?”

But for decades Hollywood has been warning us that artificial intelligence will inevitably go rogue. So, naturally, Task & Purpose asked Holmes directly if Project Maven is the first step toward Skynet.

“I certainly hope not,” he replied.

To ease concerns about a possible robot insurrection, Holmes pointed to the fact that, although learning machines have beat experts at chess, Go, and other games, they are far less effective without the assistance of experienced human operators.

“We’re going to have to work through as Americans our comfort level on how technologies are used and how they are applied,” Holmes said. “I understand the views of the people there. It goes into being a member of the military: I wield some pretty impressive technologies and our job is to make sure that we use them for good and in accordance with the rules that are laid out in the Constitution.”

“These are all complex issues that we’ll have to work through, but I’m not worried yet about AOC Pathfinder taking over as Skynet,” Holmes added.

WATCH NEXT:

(DoD photo)

Eleven men have been assaulted near bars in Wilmington, North Carolina, prompting police to warn those who go out drinking late at night.

The men, including seven members of the military, were attacked in downtown Wilmington in eastern North Carolina around the time bars closed for the night, the city's police department said Wednesday in a Facebook post.

"Police have now identified four victims who may have been sexually assaulted," officials say.

The attacked servicemen were in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, WITN reports.

Read More Show Less

A big stereotype surrounding U.S. service members and veterans is that they are defined only by their military service, from buying "Dysfunctional Veteran" t-shirts to playing hard-boiled, high-octane first-person shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty (we honestly have no idea where anyone could get that impression).

But the folks at OSD (formerly called Operation Supply Drop), a non-profit veteran service organization that aims to help troops and vets connect with each other through free video games, service programs and other activities, recently found that most of the gamers they've served actually prefer less military-centric fare like sports games and fantasy RPGs.

Read More Show Less

The fog of war, just kills, and war crimes are the focus of a new documentary series coming to STARZ. Titled Leavenworth, the six-part series profiles 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, the Army infantry officer who was convicted on murder charges for ordering his soldiers to fire on three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle, killing two and wounding the third, while deployed to the Zhari district in Kandahar province, on July 2, 2012.

Read More Show Less
Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

Read More Show Less

The former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs thinks that the VA needs to start researching medical marijuana. Not in a bit. Not soon. Right goddamn now.

Read More Show Less