The US Defense Secretary Dr Mark Esper has urged government, academia and industry bodies to collectively step up efforts to augment the country’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in the field of defence.

Mark Esper highlighted the need for the public and private sectors to come together to revolutionise AI technology and strive towards enabling the US to steal a march on adversaries in the AI race.

To drive home his point, the Defense Secretary tried to draw parallels between the efforts made by the industry and the government during the Second World War (WWII) and what is needed now to gain an upper hand in the AI industry.

He referred to efforts put by ‘titans of industry’ to turn Detroit into an ‘arsenal of democracy’ to feed the US war effort during WWII.

He also mentioned how the US Government established the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Nasa, and ‘took control of the space race’.

Speaking at a conference hosted by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence in Washington, Esper said: “Mastering artificial intelligence will require similar vision, ambition and commitment.

“We need the full force of American intellect and ingenuity working in harmony across the public and private sectors. We need your leadership and vision to ensure we maintain a strategic edge.”

He highlighted how China is making strides to achieve its goal of being the world leader in AI by 2030.

Esper said that the Asian superpower developed autonomous vehicles and is seeking to operate them across many combat domains.

Esper continued that the US military ‘will harness the potential of AI to create a force fit for our time’.

He added: “We believe there is tremendous opportunity to enhance a wide range of the department’s capabilities from the back office to the front line, and we will do this while being recognised as the world leader in military ethics by developing principles for using AI in a lawful and ethical manner.”

According to Esper, the development of AI sits right at the top of the list of immediate technology needs for the US military.

Summing up the US Department of Defense ’s focus, he said: “Whichever nation harnesses AI first will have a decisive advantage on the battlefield for many, many years. We have to get there first.”