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New bill would prepare US for artificial intelligence threat

WASHINGTON — Warning artificial intelligence will revolutionize warfare, a key House lawmaker has opened the pod bay doors to legislation aimed at preparing for the threat posed by intelligent machines.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, introduced legislation on AI Wednesday, which she hopes to add into this year’s defense policy bill. Her bill would develop a commission to review advances in AI, identify the nation’s AI needs and make recommendations to organize the federal government for the threat.

Stefanik’s legislation comes as U.S. officials are increasingly worried about China making a major government-led push on AI, and it lines up with calls from the military AI space for America to launch an all-of-government approach to the problem. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers last month that AI is making him question what impact AI will have on the nature of war, and the Pentagon plans to increase AI-related investments over the next two years.

“Artificial Intelligence is a constantly developing technology that will likely touch every aspect of our lives,” Stefanik, R-N.Y., said in a statement. “AI has already produced many things in use today, including web search, object recognition in photos or videos, prediction models, self-driving cars, and automated robotics. It is critical to our national security but also to the development of our broader economy that the United States becomes the global leader in further developing this cutting edge technology.”

Stefanik’s proposed national security commission on artificial intelligence would address and identify America’s national security needs with respect to AI. It would also look at ways to preserve America’s technological edge, foster AI investments and research, and establish data standards and open incentives to share data.

The bill also aims to air ethical considerations related to AI and machine learning, and identify and understand the risks of AI advances under the law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law.

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, now with the Center for a New American Security, has said the time is right for some sort of national push, which should include consideration of what he termed a “national AI agency.”

“One of the things that the national AI agency should do is to address this problem: How do we address IP? How do we address combining all of the strengths of our DoD labs and our technology sector for the betterment of the country? This is across all things, in medicine, in finance, in transportation. And yes, hopefully, in defense,” Work said at the March 15 launch of a new CNAS artificial intelligence working group.

But for that to happen, “we’re going to need something, help from Congress, either a caucus or someone who takes this as a leadership position,” Work cautioned. “To have a national response, you have to have a national push from above.”

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