DARPA Plans to Dedicate Millions in Funding to 'Third Wave' AI Research Projects

DARPA have pledged new funding towards AI research saying they will simplify the contracting procedure to get research happening quickly.
Jessica Miley

The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced a new program aimed to rapidly increase developments in AI research. The Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) program, will be a key part of the agency’s strategy to ensure the United States remains a key player in the development of cutting-edge AI technology.

AIE will create funding opportunities with reduced amounts of bureaucracy and a streamlined contracting procedure to ensure that a start date can be achieved within three months of a funding announcement. Researchers will then work intensely to achieve feasibility of AI projects within an 18 months timeline.

Program designed to help scientist start work quickly

This intense period of development is designed to give scientist the best chance to get projects off the ground that could lead to major breakthroughs in the sector. DARPA hopes the initiative will put them ahead of their competitors in AI development.

“DARPA has established a streamlined process to push the state of the art in AI through regular and relatively short-term technology development projects,” said Peter Highnam, DARPA Deputy Director. “The intent is to get researchers on contract quickly to test the value and feasibility of innovative concepts. Where we’re successful, individual projects could lead to larger research and development programs spurring major AI breakthroughs.”

DARPA funding helped create 'BigDog' robot

DARPA has been instrumental in the funding and discovery of key breakthroughs in AI science. AI development is commonly described in a wave metaphor.

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The first wave being described as Rule-based AI, and the “second wave” as statistical-learning-based AI technologies. DARPA hopes it latest funding opportunities will lead to a breakthrough in the third wave of AI theory.

It hopes the AIR program will be able to address shortcomings in the first two waves and move the sector forward into new ground. The research will focus on AI that makes it possible for machines to adapt to changing environments.

DARPA has a clear goal of developing AI-enabled robots to help with what it sees as issues of national security. DARPA’s announcement will be seen as both good news and bad news to the AI industry.

Industry leaders join together to make a pledge against AI-enabled weapons

On one hand, new funding opportunities are welcome, particularly when DARPA have promised a streamlined method of accessing funds. However, DARPA has made it clear that they are interested in developing AI-enabled robots for use in defense.

Many AI experts have expressed concerns that AI technology could easily be applied to create lethal autonomous weapons. Last year, AI leaders, including CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk, signed an open letter to the UN urging them to tighten regulations of AI weapons.


This year Musk has joined with other AI business leaders, engineers and researchers to publicly pledge not to develop AI-enabled weapons. The pledge was organized by the Boston-based research organization Future of Life Institute (FLI), a research organization aiming to mitigate existential risks facing humanity.

The pledge was published last Wednesday at the 2018 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) in Stockholm. The pledge reads: "We the undersigned agree that the decision to take a human life should never be delegated to a machine." It goes on to warn, "lethal autonomous weapons, selecting and engaging targets without human intervention, would be dangerously destabilizing for every country and individual."


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