The U.S. Department of Defense officially adopted a series of ethical principles for the use of Artificial Intelligence today following recommendations provided to Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper by the Defense Innovation Board last October.
The recommendations came after 15 months of consultation with leading AI experts in commercial industry, government, academia and the American public that resulted in a rigorous process of feedback and analysis among the nation’s leading AI experts with multiple venues for public input and comment. The adoption of AI ethical principles aligns with the DOD AI strategy objective directing the U.S. military lead in AI ethics and the lawful use of AI systems.
"The United States, together with our allies and partners, must accelerate the adoption of AI and lead in its national security applications to maintain our strategic position, prevail on future battlefields, and safeguard the rules-based international order," said Secretary Esper. "AI technology will change much about the battlefield of the future, but nothing will change America's steadfast commitment to responsible and lawful behavior. The adoption of AI ethical principles will enhance the department's commitment to upholding the highest ethical standards as outlined in the DOD AI Strategy, while embracing the U.S. military's strong history of applying rigorous testing and fielding standards for technology innovations."
These principles align closely with ongoing Trump Administration efforts to advance trustworthy AI technologies. Last year, President Trump launched the American AI Initiative, the U.S. national strategy for leadership in artificial intelligence, which promotes innovative uses of AI while protecting civil liberties, privacy and American values.
The DOD’s AI ethical principles will build on the U.S. military’s existing ethics framework based on the U.S. Constitution, Title 10 of the U.S. Code, Law of War, existing international treaties and longstanding norms and values. While the existing framework provides a technology-neutral and enduring foundation for ethical behavior, the use of AI raises new ethical ambiguities and risks. The principles address these new challenges and ensure the responsible use of AI by the department.
These principles will apply to both combat and non-combat functions and assist the U.S. military in upholding legal, ethical and policy commitments in the field of AI. The department’s AI ethical principles encompass five major areas:
- Responsible. DoD personnel will exercise appropriate levels of judgment and care, while remaining responsible for the development, deployment, and use of AI capabilities.
- Equitable. The Department will take deliberate steps to minimize unintended bias in AI capabilities.
- Traceable. The Department’s AI capabilities will be developed and deployed such that relevant personnel possess an appropriate understanding of the technology, development processes, and operational methods applicable to AI capabilities, including with transparent and auditable methodologies, data sources, and design procedure and documentation.
- Reliable. The Department’s AI capabilities will have explicit, well-defined uses, and the safety, security, and effectiveness of such capabilities will be subject to testing and assurance within those defined uses across their entire life-cycles.
- Governable. The Department will design and engineer AI capabilities to fulfill their intended functions while possessing the ability to detect and avoid unintended consequences, and the ability to disengage or deactivate deployed systems that demonstrate unintended behavior.
“Secretary Esper's leadership on AI and his decision to issue AI Principles for the Department demonstrates not only to DoD, but to countries around the world, that the U.S. and DoD are committed to ethics, and will play a leadership role in ensuring democracies adopt emerging technology responsibly,” said Dr. Eric Schmidt, Chair, Defense Innovation Board. “I also commend the leadership of Dana Deasy and Lieutenant General Shanahan, who through the Joint AI Center, have been champions of this effort.”
The DoD Joint Artificial Intelligence Center will be the focal point for coordinating implementation of AI ethical principles for the department. The JAIC currently leads and facilitates a series of working groups that solicits input from services and AI and technology experts throughout the DOD.
“We are grateful to the Defense Innovation Board for their thorough and insightful recommendations that led to the adoption of DoD AI ethical principles,” said Hon. Dana Deasy, DOD Chief Information Officer. “Ethics remain at the forefront of everything the department does with AI technology, and our teams will use these principles to guide the testing, fielding and scaling of AI-enabled capabilities across the DOD.”