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Why business is booming for military AI startups 

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The military is answering the call. NATO announced on June 30 that it is creating a $1 billion innovation fund that will invest in early-stage startups and venture capital funds to develop “priority” technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data processing and automation.

Since the war began, Britain has launched a new artificial intelligence strategy dedicated to defense, and the Germans have earmarked nearly $1 billion for research and artificial intelligence amid a $100 billion injection into the military.

“War is a catalyst for change,” said Kenneth Payne, head of defence studies at King’s College London and author of the book I, Warbot: Dawn of AI Conflict.

The Ukraine war has added urgency to bring more AI tools to the battlefield. The ones that have benefited the most are startups like Palantir, which hope to profit as the military races to update their arsenals with the latest technology. But as the technology becomes more advanced, long-standing ethical questions about the use of AI in warfare become more pressing, and the prospect of restricting and regulating its use looks as distant as ever.

The relationship between technology and the military has not always been so friendly. In 2018, after employee protests and outrage, Google withdrew from the Pentagon’s Project Maven, which sought to build an image recognition system to improve drone strikes. The incident sparked a heated debate about human rights and the ethics of developing artificial intelligence for autonomous weapons.

It has also led prominent AI researchers, such as Turing Award winner Yoshua Bengio, and the founders of leading AI lab DeepMind, Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman, to pledge not to work on deadly AI.

But four years later, Silicon Valley is closer than ever to the world army. It’s not just big companies — startups are finally getting in, says Yll Bajraktari, who was the executive director of the National Security Council on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) and now works for the Special Competition Research Project, an organization that lobbies for more in the U.S. adopt artificial intelligence.

Why choose artificial intelligence

Companies selling AI for military use make broad claims about the capabilities of their technology. They say it can help with everything from mundane to deadly, from sifting through resumes to processing data from satellites or identifying patterns in data to help soldiers make faster decisions on the battlefield. Image recognition software can help identify objects. Autonomous drones could be used to conduct surveillance or attack on land, air or water, or to help soldiers deliver supplies more safely than on land.



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