Computer code on a screenLast month, President Trump signed into law the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (“NDAA” or the “Act”), which, among other things, includes provisions addressing the development and use of artificial intelligence (“AI”) in the context of national security and defense.

Section 2238 of the NDAA charges the U.S. Department of Defense (“DoD” or the “Department”) with developing, maturing, and transitioning AI technologies into operational use.  Within one year of the Act’s enactment, the Secretary of Defense must designate a senior official within the Department to coordinate activities relating to the development and demonstration of AI and machine learning.  Responsibilities of this senior official include the following:

  • Developing a detailed strategic plan for the development and adoption of AI technologies;
  • Engaging with representatives from the defense industry and other private companies, research universities, and unaffiliated nonprofit research institutions;
  • Supporting the development of capabilities that assess and address AI-based threats;
  • Developing classification guidance for all AI-related activities within the Department; and
  • Working with appropriate officials to develop appropriate ethical, legal, and other policies governing the development and use of AI-enabled systems and technologies in operational situations.

Within one year of the Act’s enactment, the designated senior official also must complete a study on past and current advances in AI and the future of the discipline, including the methods and means necessary to further the technology to address national security needs.

Separately, in Section 1051, the NDAA established a new independent commission in the executive branch to review advances in AI, machine learning, and related technologies.  The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (the “Commission”) will be comprised of the Secretaries of Commerce and Defense and senior leaders on relevant congressional committees.  The Act directs the Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the methods and means necessary to advance the development of AI in the national security context.  This review will consider a number of issues, including AI’s effect on American labor and economic competitiveness, foreign investment, workforce and education incentives, data standards, and military efforts, as well as related ethical considerations.  The Commission’s findings and recommendations will be produced in a report within 180 days of the Act’s enactment, with an annual update thereafter.  Under the statute, the Commission is scheduled to terminate on October 1, 2020.