TRADOC Commander: Ethics Must Come First as Army Employs New Technology

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

HALIFAX, Canada — As the Army takes advantage of advancements in artificial intelligence, automation and biotechnology, it must keep ethics at the forefront, said the commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

“The first thing we focus on with regards to any capability we give our soldiers … starts actually when they come to basic training,” said Gen. David Perkins. “We give classes on what we call the Army profession and values before they ever go to the rifle range.”

Whether it is artificial intelligence, neuro-prosthetics or unmanned systems, these new technologies “are a way to reduce collateral damage because we can discriminate much better,” he said during a panel discussion at the Halifax International Security Forum Nov. 22.

Neuro-prosthetics are brain implants that can potentially improve the performance of a soldier, said Annie Jacobsen, an investigative journalist and author of “The Pentagon’s Brain,” a book about work being done at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“DoD has been involved in this area, biotechnology, for 25 years. So the people I think are behind the curve and DoD is way ahead of the curve particularly with DARPA,” she said. Brain implants could enable faster reaction times for soldiers, or could help troops recognize targets from satellite photos, she said.

Perkins said he was on board with such technology, but noted that it was all about how it is used. “Quite honestly I’m less interested in putting a chip in their brain than I am making sure the soldier doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder,” he said. “There are lots of ways to improve their cognitive capability. We have a performance triad which is nutrition, exercise, sleep. Those things have nothing to do with microprocessors.”

In its 2015 Human Dimension Strategy, the Army said it wants to optimize the human performance of every soldier and Army civilian in the total force. “Emerging advances in science and technology provide the Army the opportunity to improve training, education, leader development and talent management in pursuit of optimal performance,” the strategy said.

It focuses on three aspects: how to have cognitive dominance; how the institution of the Army deals with the human dimension; and how it trains for it.

On the automation side, the military is investing heavily in unmanned systems but there are no plans to take humans out of the loop, Perkins said. In terms of morality and ethics, “the weapon systems is not going to have the values [a soldier has] and all those kind of things, but that’s why the person employing and using it has to have it.”

“There are comments [that say], ‘Well, if you have autonomous operations or robots there are moral or ethical issues involved with that.’ There are moral and ethical issues involved with using a bayonet. So the moral and ethical issues have nothing to do with the technology quite honestly,” he said.

A soldier could easily cause another harm irresponsibly with a bayonet, he added.  

Topics: Defense Department, Science and Engineering Technology, DARPA

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