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Responsibly Implementing AI: Seizing Opportunities and Safeguarding Risks

By: Krista McSwain, Pallas Foundation Fellow

12 December 2023

Pallas Foundation recently moderated a discussion on the national security implications of responsibly implementing artificial intelligence. The key question up for debate was how to safeguard the risks of AI while simultaneously taking progressive, innovative steps forward to ensure our national security and arm our warfighters. The event was attended by diverse participants, including U.S. government experts and partners in academia, industry, and young professionals. The discussion focused on the critical steps and best practices required for the U.S. to take advantage of the vast potential of AI technology while mitigating its risks. One of the topics discussed was optimizing AI acquisition and disseminating information to the intended audience, emphasizing how technology can facilitate these processes.

Although AI’s risks were acknowledged, participants agreed on prioritizing and speeding up the  U.S. acquisition and broad adoption of AI to protect and promote national security. Despite the challenges the Defense Department faces in acquiring, implementing, and innovating new technologies, the potential of AI to revolutionize the future of defense cannot be ignored. As a Pallas Foundation Fellow, I learned about the importance of ensuring the security of the Defense Department as the tech sector continues to advance generative AI and Large Language Models. My key takeaways from the conversation include:

  1. Use AI to streamline current intelligence processes: While information is received fairly fast, processing it into actionable intelligence is significantly slower. AI has the opportunity to play a significant role in collecting information and hastening the exploitation and dissemination processes in the intelligence cycle. The Defense Department continues to make slow progress in leveraging the latest technology in a responsible manner to more efficiently apply AI to the intelligence and defense ecosystem. 

  2. Apply “lessons learned” from current events to prepare for the future: Many global events have become catalysts for the private and public sectors to accelerate AI adoption and apply it in crisis or conflict settings. As an example, the war in Ukraine has significantly boosted military application of disruptive technology and helped strategists understand how technology is changing the nature of conflict. Expanding the Defense Department’s development and application of AI will be informed by lessons learned from the live battle lab in Ukraine. 

  3. Bring together public and private sector leadership for efficient acquisition of AI: The public sector must be aligned with industry to acquire new technologies successfully. One way to bring these sectors closer is through education campaigns from both sides – the explosion of AI in today’s world requires a stronger understanding of how everyone is trying to advance this technology.  Facilitating discussions between industry experts and government leaders so they can better understand one another's impact is vital.

Technology today is advancing at unprecedented speed, and the U.S. has legitimate concerns about falling behind our adversaries. Even so, I left this discussion feeling confident that the U.S. will continue to be a leader in AI advancements and other emerging tech developments. The consensus of the event was clear – it is important for national security leaders to come together to balance the deployment of cutting-edge, advanced AI models, while ensuring risk is appropriately mitigated. 

N.B. The event described was held under Chatham House rules; the above summary reflects the views of the author alone and does not imply endorsement by any other attendee.

Krista McSwain was a Pallas Foundation Fellow in Fall 2023 and a first year graduate student at Johns Hopkins SAIS where she is earning her master’s in International Relations with a functional focus on security and statecraft and a regional focus on China. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis, where she majored in International Affairs and Chinese. Krista previously worked in Congressman Cohen's office and with the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs.


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