Forum

CMU SDS opposes Army AI Task Force

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Last week, The Tartan reported on Carnegie Mellon's latest partnership with the U.S. military, the Army AI Task Force. As the article states, “the Army AI Task Force represents only the most recent chapter in a 70-year history of Carnegie Mellon working with the Department of Defense.” Nevertheless, this is a particularly outrageous chapter, and the justifications for it are deceptive and inhumane.

In support of the Task Force, Army Futures Commander General John Murray says that “the ‘character of war’ continues to evolve,” citing “quantum computing, ventures into space, directed energy, AI, and machine learning.” He predicts that very soon, “artificial intelligence will be ‘in everything, and everywhere.’”

In this way, General Murray seems to portray technological change as a natural force that humans don’t cause and couldn’t possibly redirect. In fact, the U.S. military has intentionally brought AI into war, dumping military funding into related technical areas. Their strategy has been to incentivize engineers and scientists at universities like Carnegie Mellon to work for war profiteers, to coax them into ignoring their conscience even as people everywhere, including in this country, are increasingly skeptical of the U.S.'s status as “leader of the free world.”

The U.S. military is currently occupying or bombing seven countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and it maintains special operations forces in over 100 others. It provides weapons, targeting assistance, and diplomatic support to the human rights-abusing regime of Saudi Arabia even as that government carries out a genocide in Yemen and regularly locks up and executes activists and dissidents from its own country. Right now, the U.S. military is threatening undemocratic regime change in Venezuela and Iran. To be clear, this is the institution that Carnegie Mellon's AI Task Force is supporting.

According to General Murray, the Carnegie Mellon-Army partnership will both “make our soldiers and units of the future more effective,” and “better yet” create a situation where “there will be nobody in the world who will challenge [the U.S.].” The General’s first point is a typical canard of pro-war discourse: even if you disagree with U.S. foreign policy, you should support any decision that “helps the troops.” We should reject this framing. The central issue is not the soldiers and units, but the policies they are carrying out: coups, bombings, and other acts of unprovoked violence. Why should we want such policies made “more effective”?

With his second point, General Murray betrays a desire for total U.S. domination. But we have seen, since 9/11, how U.S. occupation of regions like the Middle East has not brought ordinary people great benefits — to put it mildly. Globally, income and wealth inequality are increasing. Climate change and environmental degradation are accelerating. Migration crises, horrible in their own right, are creating political space for rising fascist movements in Europe, Asia, South America, and elsewhere. This is how things stand now, with the massive U.S. military encircling the globe, commanding advanced weaponry that our closest competitors could hardly dream of. Does it seem just to give the military even more power?

Discussing advances in AI, Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper argues that “whoever gets there first” will be given a “decisive edge on the battlefield for years to come.” Again, this implies that changes in technology are simply occurring somewhere “out there” in the wild, with the Army’s technologists “discovering” them. In reality, U.S. leaders are actively fostering these changes in a race to the bottom with similarly militaristic war planners in China and Russia.

We don’t have to approach the issue that way. After decades of bloody proxy wars, it was direct negotiations that ended the Cold War with the Soviet Union in 1989. If negotiations had been more consistent, it may have ended much sooner. In his second term, President Obama’s administration held direct talks with Iran, a country that President Bush had relegated to the “Axis of Evil.” The result of Obama’s diplomacy was a multilateral agreement that made the world safer. If the U.S. wants to prevent AI from being used by China or Russia, it should work cooperatively with these and other world powers on a global AI weapons ban.

Instead, even our very own university president, Farnam Jahanian, is committed to war over diplomacy and negotiations. The Tartan reports that President Jahanian “excitedly stated ‘Carnegie Mellon stands ready to assist the Army.’” This is unacceptable. The President did not seek the input of students, faculty, or staff before proffering this view on our behalf — or indeed, before committing Carnegie Mellon to the Army AI Task Force itself.

For our part, SDS members stand ready to hold the U.S. military accountable and check its power at our university. When President Jahanian states that AI military applications “benefit society,” we strongly disagree. Any Task Force designed to keep the U.S. at war forever, dominating and controlling the world, is anathema to democracy, peace, and social justice.

If you are interested in helping us counter the dangerous relationship between Carnegie Mellon and war, you can learn more at fb.me/newsdscmu or email us at carnegiemellonsds@gmail.com to get involved.