WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department has created a task force to evaluate and guide the application of generative artificial intelligence for national security purposes, amid an explosion of public interest in the technology.

Task Force Lima falls under the purview of the department’s Chief Digital and AI Office, or CDAO, itself a little more than a year old. Other defense and intelligence community organizations will participate, according to an Aug. 10 memo signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.

“The establishment of Task Force Lima underlines the Department of Defense’s unwavering commitment to leading the charge in AI innovation,” Hicks said in a statement. “As we navigate the transformative power of generative AI, our focus remains steadfast on ensuring national security, minimizing risks, and responsibly integrating these technologies.”

Generative AI, capable of carrying a convincing conversation or crafting content like computer code with little prompting, has garnered much attention in recent months. OpenAI’s ChatGPT, for example, accrued more than 1 million users within a week of its November launch, and the company’s CEO, Sam Altman, testified before Congress about its potential hazards.

The employment of generative AI within the military is hotly debated. While a smart assistant or AI-powered chatbot could efficiently find files, answer frequently asked questions or dig up contact information, such tools can also fuel disinformation campaigns, spoofing attempts and cyberattacks. The Defense Information Systems Agency this fiscal year added generative AI to its “Tech Watchlist.” Other items on the list include 5G wireless communications, quantum-resistant cryptography and zero-trust cybersecurity.

“These capabilities unlock new opportunities, just as they pose significant new risks,” Hicks’ memo reads. “The DoD faces an imperative to explore the use of this technology and the potential of these models’ scale, speed, and interactive capabilities to improve the Department’s mission effectiveness while simultaneously identifying proper protection measures and mitigating a variety of related risks.”

At least 685 artificial intelligence projects, including several tied to major weapons systems, were underway at the Defense Department as of early 2021, the most recent public tally. The Pentagon requested $1.8 billion for artificial intelligence in its fiscal 2024 budget request.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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