ST. LOUIS — The U.S. public and private sectors cannot afford to pause their pursuits of artificial intelligence, as some have called for, amid an international race for technological supremacy, according to Pentagon Chief Information Officer John Sherman.

Digital luminaries including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Getty Images CEO Craig Peters and Twitter’s Elon Musk, alongside academics and others, signed an open letter in March advocating for powerful AI development to proceed “only once we are confident their effects” will be manageable and net positive.

But doing so, Sherman said May 24 at the GEOINT Symposium in St. Louis, risks ceding AI hegemony to China or Russia, powers the U.S. considers premier national security threats.

“I’ve said this in other venues, and I’m going to say it here today, that I know some have advocated for taking a knee for six months,” he said. “No. Not at the Department of Defense, not the intelligence community.”

Defense leaders see AI, autonomy and related technologies as critical to long-term competitiveness on the world stage. A Pentagon strategy for AI implementation describes breakthroughs as shaking up “the national security landscape,” with foreign governments “investing heavily” in ways “that threaten global security, peace and stability.”

At least 685 AI-related projects were underway at the Pentagon as of early 2021, according to the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog. They include several tied to major weapons systems. The tech will play a critical role in navigation and targeting aboard the Army’s future Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle as well as the streamlining of logistics and maintenance needs across the broader military.

“One thing we take pride in — the United States, working with our allies — is to be responsible in how we apply AI and develop it. Not in ways that you see in China and Russia and elsewhere,” Sherman said. “We can do this, and create decision advantage for our warfighters, correctly with our democratic values.”

The Biden administration this week rolled out guidance for federally backed AI research. Months prior, the White House published a blueprint for an AI bill of rights, which laid out a road map for responsible AI application.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

More In AI & ML