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Defense Tech Startup Founded by Trump’s Most Prominent Silicon Valley Supporters Wins Secretive Military AI Contract

A startup founded by a young and outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump is among the latest tech companies to quietly win a contract with the Pentagon as part of Project Maven, the secretive initiative to rapidly leverage artificial intelligence technology from the private sector for military purposes.

The Google flap and the wider military drive to adopt commercial artificial intelligence technology unleashed a fierce debate among tech companies about their role in society and ethics around advanced computing.

Anduril Industries is developing virtual reality technology using Lattice, a product the firm offers that uses ground- and autonomous helicopter drone-based sensors to provide a three-dimensional view of terrain.

The technology is designed to provide a virtual view of the front lines to soldiers, including the ability to identify potential targets and direct unmanned military vehicles into combat.

We’re deployed in multiple spots along the U.S. border,” Luckey said, cryptically adding: “We’re deployed around some other infrastructure I can’t talk about.” He also discussed how he hoped the military would apply Anduril’s technology.

“What we’re working on is taking data from lots of different sensors, putting it into an AI-powered sensor fusion platform so that you can build a perfect 3D model of everything that’s going on in a large area,” Luckey said.

“Then we take that data and run predictive analytics on it, and tag everything with metadata, find what’s relevant, then push it to people who are out in the field.” “Practically speaking, in the future, I think soldiers are going to be superheroes who have the power of perfect omniscience over their area of operations, where they know where every enemy is, every friend is, every asset is,” he said.

Anduril’s pitch deck, the presentation it provided to solicit investors, imagines a future of warfighting by means that might look like science fiction to the average observer.

In 2017, as part of an initiative that had begun the previous year, the Defense Department also unveiled the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team, known as Project Maven, to harness the latest artificial intelligence research into battlefield technology, starting with a project to improve image recognition for drones operating in the Middle East.

This wave of outreach from the government provided a unique entry point for Anduril, which partnered with the Department of Homeland Security’s satellite office to successfully pitch its test project for the virtual wall.

Publicly filed lobbying disclosures show that Anduril paid $290,000 last year to Invariant, a lobbying firm founded by Heather Podesta, a Democratic fundraiser known for her extensive relationships in Washington, D.C., including with Hillary Clinton.

The lobbying effort focused on shaping the border security appropriations issued by Congress, as well as on educating lawmakers on “artificial intelligence and autonomous systems and their application to military force protection,”

Among his political largesse, Luckey donated to political action committees supporting Trump, the senior lawmakers on the defense and appropriations committees, and a number of controversial conservative lawmakers, including Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has defended white supremacy and questioned the contributions of nonwhite people to society.

That approach has seen the Defense Department negotiate with contractors to provide a fixed price for expenses and profits, one that, in Luckey’s telling, has limited the military’s ability to encourage the kind of breakthrough technologies needed for the future of war.

Brose formerly worked under the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and served as a speechwriter to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Two months later, Anduril formally joined the National Armaments Consortium, a nonprofit that facilitates bids by traditional defense contracting firms for business with the military.

As the military worked to bring in leading Silicon Valley firms as contractors, the resulting relationships have sparked massive resistance from workers, many of whom have argued that they became engineers to make the world a better place, not a more violent one.

After the The Intercept and other media outlets revealed that Google had been quietly tapped to work on Project Maven, applying its AI technology to help analysts identify drone targets on the battlefield, thousands of workers protested the contract.

But ostracizing the U.S. military could have the opposite effect of what these protesters intend: If tech companies want to promote peace, they should stand with, not against, the United States’ defense community.” What was left out of the column, however, was that, as the piece went to print, Anduril was beginning its own work on Project Maven.

In Anduril, Luckey is presenting a company that is unapologetic about its work capturing immigrants or killing people on the battlefield. The U.S., Luckey argued in a previous interviews, “has a really strong record of protecting human rights”

Tackling Hypersonic Threats: Offense Or Missile Defense?

But at the Hudson Institute today, a gathering of experts on hypersonic weaponry and missile defense all agreed that, if the US invests solely in defense, we’ll be falling for what military theorists call a cost-imposition strategy: I spend x on a weapon in hope of scaring you into spending many times x to counter it.

The problem is physics: It’s much easier to build a missile that can hit a ship, base, or city, which are big and slow, than to build a missile to shoot down other missiles, which are small and fast.

But if you have to kill a missile with another missile, the best time to hit the enemy weapons is before they launch, which they’re not moving a thousand miles an hour.

spoke with some of the panelists after their presentations and asked if China would be happy about the US pursuing substantial missile defense efforts against hypersonic weapons, instead of spending on offensive weapons.

Inside the Pentagon's Big Plans to Develop Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence

As federal agencies ramp up efforts to advance artificial intelligence under the White House’s national AI strategy, the Pentagon’s research shop is already working to push the tech to new limits.

Last year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency kicked off the AI Next campaign, a $2 billion effort to build artificial intelligence tools capable of human-like communication and logical reasoning that far surpass the abilities of today’s most advanced tech.

Included in the agency’s portfolio are efforts to automate the scientific process, create computers with common sense, study the tech implications of insect brains and link military systems to the human body.

There's a certain ability to recognize new situations, behave appropriately in new situations, [and] recognize when maybe you don't have enough experience or training to actually function in a predictable or appropriate way for new situations.

Machine learning-enabled AI does certain tasks quite well—image classification, voice recognition, natural language processing, statistical pattern recognition—but we also know AI can fail quite spectacularly in unexpected ways.

In image classification, a machine will see a picture of a panda and recognize it as a panda, but you just make a few minor changes to pixels that the human eye wouldn't even recognize, and it's classified as a gibbon or something.

We need AI systems that do have some ability for introspection, so when given a task they could communicate to their partner 'based on my training and my experience, you should have confidence in me that I could do this' or ‘I’ve not encountered this situation before and I can't ...

[For this program], the time from posting a topic announcement to actually getting people doing work is 90 days or less, and that's fairly unprecedented in government contracting.

AI Exploration allows us to go after some of the more high-risk, uncertain spaces quickly to find out whether they're on the critical path toward reaching our ultimate vision.

There are clear challenges in making sure we have the manpower and the human capital to make sure that we're applying the right STEM approaches and that we are protecting that technological edge while not stifling innovation.

US Military: Our “Lethality Automated System” Definitely Isn’t a Killer Robot

To that end, it added the following paragraph to the request: All development and use of autonomous and semi-autonomous functions in weapon systems, including manned and unmanned platforms, remain subject to the guidelines in the Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 3000.09, which was updated in 2017.

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