IN THE DEFENSE OF ROBOTICS
BUILDING INTELLIGENT ROBOTS is costly work. As a result, scientists require patrons with deep pocketbooks. The deepest purse in the U.S. belongs, of course, to the American military. A large proportion of the research funds at the Robotics Institute (RI) come from the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Project Agency and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which has led some residents to stake out ethical positions on research funding. Apocalyptic AI could provide roboticists with a justification for military spending, one that resolves the ethical dilemma by defusing the threat of technological research. The military might be seen as a means to an end. Instead of better weaponry, the real promise of robotics and AI is a salvific future. Given the plausibility of that scenario, it is important to think through the ramifications of military funding at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). As it turns out, a thorough look at the military presence at CMU’s Robotics Institute shows that, whatever moral ambiguity exists in military funding, it does not explain the rise of Apocalyptic AI. The intellectual drive behind robotics research and the practical fact that military applications are inextricably intertwined with nonmilitary applications means that little military controversy exists for most individual researchers.
Following the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, fear in the United States about the country’s scientific and technological supremacy led to a wide array of responses, including the establishment of the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1958. “DARPA’s mission is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research that bridges the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use” (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency 2009). DARPA reports directly to the secretary of defense and attempts to minimize bureaucratic interference in innovation while maximizing researchers’ productivity. As long as some possibility