Launched in 2017, Project Maven was aimed at developing and integrating computer-vision algorithms needed to help military and civilian analysts encumbered by the sheer volume of full-motion video data that DoD collects.
After receiving severe criticism in the past, the US Department of Defense (DOD’s) AI-driven project, Maven has now got “overwhelming support and interest from the tech industry”. The revelation has come from none other than the new acting Director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), Nand Mulchandani, who in his first-ever Pentagon press conference earlier this week said that they have “commercial contracts and work going on with all of the major tech and AI companies — including Google — and many others.”
Earlier, more than 3,000 Google employees had signed a petition to protest against the company’s involvement with the AI project that studies imagery and could eventually be used to improve drone strikes in the battlefield. “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” the petition read, explaining how Google’s involvement in Project Maven stands to damage its brand and its trust among the general public.
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Project Maven, also known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Function Team, was launched in April 2017. According to Pentagon, it was aimed at developing and integrating “computer-vision algorithms needed to help military and civilian analysts encumbered by the sheer volume of full-motion video data that DoD collects every day in support of counterinsurgency and counter terrorism operations”.
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Unlike his predecessor Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan who led the project and founded the Joint AI Center in 2018, Mulchandani is seen to be more familiar with the industry, as he has spent a large part of his life in the tech sector, joining JAIC just last year. However, the relationship with the tech industry may not be that easy, especially when JAIC is moving from “uncontroversial” uses of Artificial Intelligence such as AI-driven predictive maintenance, disaster relief and COVID response, to battlefield tasks.
In June, JAIC awarded consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton a contract to support its Joint Warfighting National Mission Initiative, with a maximum value of $800 million, which is several times the center’s annual budget. “Spending on joint warfighting is roughly greater than the combined spending on all the of other JAIC mission initiatives,” Mulchandani said.
Emphasizing on the fact that tech companies should not have issues with the Project, Mulchandani has argued that AI in the US military is governed far more strictly by rivals like China or Russia. “Warfighting” doesn’t mean Terminators, SkyNet, or other scifi-style killer robots. It means algorithmically sorting through masses of data to help human warfighters make better decisions faster,” he said.
During the press conference when a reporter asked didn’t Shanahan say (before his retirement) that the military was about to field-test its first “lethal” AI, Mulchandani replied, “Many of the products we work on will go into weapons systems. None of them right now are going to be autonomous weapons systems.”