DOD

Pentagon Taps Leader to Implement New AI Ethics

It's Alka Patel, a lawyer who has been working for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

The Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center has hired Alka Patel to lead the implementation of its new ethical principles for using artificial intelligence in warfare, Nextgov confirmed.

The JAIC’s director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, announced the position was filled during a press briefing to unveil the Pentagon’s highly-anticipated AI principles on Monday but he was tight-lipped about who assumed the role.

Nextgov later confirmed that Patel is the person the Pentagon tapped for the job. 

Patel "is coordinating these efforts for the JAIC,” the center’s spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson told Nextgov this week. “She [is] a deep thinker who possesses a strong and proven ethical foundation in her approach to fielding AI solutions.” 

Related: Pentagon to Adopt Detailed Principles for Using AI

Related: How the Pentagon’s JAIC Picks Its Artificial Intelligence-Driven Projects

Related: How AI Will Predict Chinese and Russian Moves in the Pacific

Abrahamson did not disclose Patel’s official title or start date but said she is now “fully integrated into the JAIC policy team,” which she will help lead. In the coming months, the team will bring together thought leaders from across the Defense Department to work on instituting the AI principles, which Abrahamson said would be a “rigorous process aimed at creating a continuous feedback loop to ensure the department remains current with emerging technology innovations in AI.” 

JAIC’s officials also aim to produce procurement guidance, technological safeguards, organizational controls, risk mitigation strategies and training measures that will be disseminated across the department. Further, Patel is leading the Responsible Use of AI Subcommittee, which Shanahan noted in the press briefing will bring together stakeholders from Defense and military services “to really learn what it takes to implement the principles as currently written.” 

Patel’s official title isn’t listed on her LinkedIn profile, but it does indicate she’s been on the JAIC’s Strategic Engagement and Policy Team since January. From July 2019 through to 2020, Patel worked as a research intern at the Montreal AI Ethics Institute. She also previously served as Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs and Executive Director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Risk & Regulatory Services Innovation Center, which her profile said focuses on data analytics, cybersecurity, privacy, artificial intelligence and safe cities. She’s also worked as managing director and senior counsel at the Bank of New York Mellon.

Shanahan sparked significant media coverage in September when he announced the JAIC’s intent to “hire an ethicist to help guide the [department's] development and application of artificial intelligence technologies.” Abrahamson did not say whether Patel was the aforementioned ethicist or if anyone else with an ethicist title was on the team, but said: “Patel brings a broad cross-section of experience from the private sector in managing the technical, policy, legal, and ethical aspects of building and adopting emerging technology.” He added that “her diverse skills and experience in the private sector made [Patel] the right fit for the JAIC to help advance the implementation of AI ethical principles for [Defense].”

Abrahamson also clarified that when the JAIC’s leader “said he was going to hire an ethicist, his intent was to hire a team that would be responsible for implementing AI principles and governance standards.” 

“Our policy team is made up of AI experts who have an ethicist background along with policy experience,” Abrahamson said. “That was always the intent.”

Lindsey Sheppard, a fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ international security program told Nextgov Thursday that AI is raising questions on the role of human decision-making, bias in data and outcomes, and use of lethal force across the Defense Department and the nation. For that reason and beyond, placing such a sharp focus on ethical use is necessary, she said. 

“I’m pleased that they’re prioritizing ethics in hiring. It demonstrates a commitment to using AI responsibly. That’s step one. Step two is making sure that the team is empowered to guide and influence AI development and deployment,” Sheppard said. “I’m waiting to see how implementation goes or if the new hires are effectively sidelined within the bureaucracy.”

Sheppard noted that the role of “AI ethicist” is relatively new, though “we’ve always had to think about the ethics and moral principles that guide how Americans engage in armed conflict.” In today’s world—one where Defense is already exploring the use of an AI-based decision aids system and tools for “battlefield networked lethality technologies”—Sheppard said it’s critical for the department to have not just one full-on ethicist, but a cadre of experts with diverse capabilities to guide the principles’ implementation.

“You have to have a team. This is truly an interdisciplinary job to balance technology maturity, ethics, legal requirements, and operational needs. The team’s experience should reflect that,” she said. “Trying to find a single person with all that expertise and who can be successful in the Defense’s bureaucracy is looking for a unicorn. The position would never get filled.”

Going forward, Sheppard said it’s imperative that the JAIC’s ethics-focused bunch get out of the office to see what’s really needed from the budding technology from the frontlines in the field.

“You don’t get that knowledge and experience sitting at a desk in D.C.,” she said. “I hope they’ve got a good travel budget.”

Patrick Tucker contributed to this report.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.