DARPA Makes $2B Bet On AI Tech, Wants To 'Transform Computers'

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In short: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced a multi-year investment plan that will inject over $2 billion into a wide variety of new and existing artificial intelligence projects at the federal agency. The initiative is officially advertised as the "AI Next" campaign and is dedicated to " transforming computers from specialized tools to partners in problem-solving," according to DARPA Director Dr. Steven H. Walker. The Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) program DARPA announced in July will be one of the main beneficiaries of the newly confirmed funding initiative.

Background: It's been years since DARPA's scientists concluded that fully leveraging any one of their machines without AI is an essentially impossible task, with the agency exploring everything from machine learning to downloadable knowledge, i.e. concepts of joining the human brain with AI. As Dr. Walker explained on several occasions, including last week's event that saw the official announcement of the AI Next initiative, one of DARPA's end goals with AI is to infuse machines with human-like abilities to both reason and communicate. The development comes shortly after Google decided against renewing Project Maven, its collaborative effort with the Department of Defense that explored weaponizing AI. Despite potentially being worth at least tens of millions of dollars in the long term, Alphabet's subsidiary dropped the initiative following a major wave of employee activism, with numerous engineers even quitting, citing ethical concerns about the project.

The impact: With much of DARPA's work being classified, estimating the near-term effect of the AI Next initiative is a task only fit for agency insiders. The move still sends a clear signal that the U.S. Department of Defense remains adamant to leverage AI and related technologies, with or without the Silicon Valley's help. The long-term effects of Washington pouring another couple of billion dollars into AI research are likely to span virtually every tech industry in the country, especially as the newly confirmed funding is meant to support general R&D in the field.

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