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Two young businesspeople or scientists with robotic hand standing in office, talking.

Computer Prof: Feds Should Avoid University, Seek Entrepreneurs

Too much time at the U is wasted on getting papers into theoretical journals, not enough time spent on innovation, he contends

In a recent podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks spoke with Robert D. Atkinson and Jackie Whisman at the prominent AI think tank, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, about his recent book, The Case for Killer Robots—a plea for American military brass to see that AI is an inevitable part of modern defense strategies, to be managed rather than avoided. It may be downloaded free here.

In this fourth part (here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), the discussion turned to what the government’s top priority in tech policy should be:

The discussion of a top priority in tech policy begins at 20:31 (A portion of the transcript follows. The whole transcript is here. Notes and links follow below.)

Jackie Whisman: One last fun question. If you were a presidential advisor on tech policy, what would be your top priority?

Robert J. Marks: First of all, I would gather intelligence. I think that we know not as much as we need to in order to make policy. I always believe in rewarding youth, innovation and success. These are the things which I believe that the money should go for. I would stay away from the university and look at people who have a history of innovation and success. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. And every university plays in this game of pork, where lobbyists are hired in order to get their special program funded or something of that sort. I don’t know how to get rid of that.

Jackie Whisman (pictured): You’re going to get a call from Baylor’s lobbyist after that!

Robert J. Marks: Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure. And Baylor plays the game, but it’s one of those things that everybody has to play until the policy is repealed.

Rob Atkinson: Robert, there’s a group that we really like a lot in the Defense Department now called the Defense Innovation Unit, used to be called DIUx, and it’s an effort by the Defense Department to work more closely with entrepreneurs, the types of folks you’re talking about, and they have a proposal. I think it might’ve made it into the Defense Authorization Act this year, but it certainly hasn’t been funded yet.

And that’s to be able to fund entrepreneurs directly who are developing technologies, that where the private sector may not fund them as much. So a lot of venture money goes purely into software. Doesn’t go into some of the military areas. And that sounds like something that would be a kind of thing you’re talking about is more money to these really interesting and innovative entrepreneurs to get them to be focused more on defense applications.

Robert J. Marks: Absolutely. And I think there needs to be a greater emphasis on reduction to practice. There needs to be a focus on what are we going to do with this artificial intelligence. It doesn’t need to be immediately. It can be in the future, but we need an end goal in sight, not to just do pure research, to publish more papers in some theoretical journal.

Here’s Part 1: Is the U.S. military falling behind in artificial intelligence? What is the likely outcome of allowing those with very different value systems to have control of global AI warfare technology? Robert J. Marks told Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, an AI think tank, that AI superiority can deter or shorten wars, thus reducing overall casualties.

Part 2: AI is not nearly smart enough to morph into the Terminator. Computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks offers some illustrations in an ITIF think tank interview. AI cannot, for example, handle ambiguities like flubbed headlines that can be read two different ways, Dr. Marks said.


Part 3: Is the research money for AI spent at universities just wasted? A computer engineering prof tells an AI think tank about the time a four-star general visited his university. Robert J. Marks, author of the forthcoming book Supply Side Academics, says that the strong focus on publishing papers in journals doesn’t lead to advances in the discipline.

You may also wish to look at:

Russia is systematically copying U.S. military AI robotics. In Russia’s topdown system, the military and corporations are essentially part of the same enterprise.

Show Notes

  • 01:19 | Introduction to the podcast topic
  • 02:13 | Introducing Dr. Robert J. Marks
  • 03:38 | AI in military applications
  • 05:07 | Staying ahead in development
  • 06:31 | Major areas of AI in the military
  • 07:10 | Drone swarms
  • 09:26 | Will AI be sentient?
  • 11:30 | Autonomous weapons
  • 16:07 | Ethics
  • 17:48 | The state of AI research
  • 20:31 | Top priority in tech policy

Additional Resources

Podcast Transcript

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Computer Prof: Feds Should Avoid University, Seek Entrepreneurs