April 12, 2022
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Ethical concerns surrounding the use of novel artificial intelligence in military settings are gaining attention as technology companies vie to work with the U.S. military on applications.

Catholic University, with support from Leidos (a defense and information technology research company based in Reston, Va.), convened scholars and practitioners from multiple disciplines for a virtual conference to explore the ethics of human-machine interactions for military use. “Virtue in the Loop: Designing Ethical Military AI Systems” was held April 5, 2022.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a type of computational technology that can “learn” from data sets to detect patterns, such as an app that makes personalized recommendations based on past purchasing choices.

Presenters tackled the ethics of military uses, the problems AI presents from a virtue ethics standpoint, the role of ethics in U.S. military technology development, and integrating ethics into technology design.

Ron Keesing, a vice president at Leidos, proposed asking “whether we can make AI systems … that can lead to more virtuous outcomes.” Jonathan Askonas, Catholic University professor of politics, argued that ethical AI systems should be assessed in the context of “human-machine teaming,” putting AI systems at the service of human judgment and maintaining service members’ ability to intervene when systems fail.

A drone operator’s separation from the emotional pressures of the battlefield, combined with the camera-enhanced ability to see the enemy’s face, may actually enhance moral decision- making, Nigel Biggar, professor at the University of Oxford, argued.

Presenters emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach with users, designers, and scholars. This will help “make the system fit the human” who will know “when to trust and rely on AI and when not to,” said Mary Magee Quinn, senior life scientist at Leidos.

Keesing identified the present time as an “inflection point” when the U.S. has the opportunity and obligation to set the standard for ethical military AI on the global stage.