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Pentagon’s new AI chief vows to crack ‘bureaucratic inertia,’ speed up tech advances

The Pentagon’s new head of artificial intelligence wants to speed up technological modernization after an onslaught of what he calls “valid criticism from recently departed senior leaders who expressed frustration at slow progress.”

Craig Martell, who was previously head of machine learning at Lyft Inc. and Dropbox Inc. and led AI initiatives at LinkedIn, told Bloomberg News in his first interview since starting his job as the Pentagon’s chief digital and artificial intelligence officer that he wanted to crack the department’s labyrinthine “bureaucratic inertia.”

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Martell’s arrival is a boost for the Pentagon, which is seeking to attract expert talent from the private sector. Martell, who said his first day at the Pentagon on Monday was “overwhelming, added he had taken a “not trivial pay cut to do the job.”

“It’s my goal to demonstrate that with the right cultural changes, we can have a really big, big impact,” he said, adding that the opinions of senior leaders who had left were “correct, they’re mostly correct.”

Several senior defense officials working on technological modernization have recently left the Department of Defense and expressed frustration at the slow pace of change, with some citing concerns that China – which researchers say is heavily investing in artificial intelligence for the military – could overtake US defense capabilities.

Nicolas Chaillan resigned his job as chief software officer for the Air Force last year and derided military leaders who he claimed were ill-equipped to spearhead technological change needed to outpace China.

Earlier this year, three Pentagon officials left their jobs and urged the department to accelerate efforts to adopt cutting-edge digital technology: David Spirk, the chief data officer; Preston Dunlap, the Air Force’s chief architect; and Jason Weiss, the Defense Department’s chief software officer.

Spirk told Bloomberg on Monday that the new team spearheaded by Martell, along with the reorganization of the Pentagon office he now leads, was “exactly what the Department of Defense needs.”

The Pentagon has previously run into ethical concerns over its potential use of AI. For instance, some Google employees refused to work on potential military applications for artificial intelligence, citing concerns over potential use of autonomous lethal weapons and targeting. Martell’s responsibilities include work on “algorithmic warfare,” an under-defined concept that seeks to apply artificial intelligence to combat.

In a paper for the Center for Strategic and International Studies published on Monday, Gregory Allen, formerly head of strategy and policy for AI at the Pentagon until he stepped down in April, said the department needed to update its 10-year-old policy about the use of AI-enabled and autonomous weapon systems and address the role of machine learning. Despite regular rhetoric from senior defense officials that there would always be a “human in the loop in any decision to fire a weapon, there is no explicit ban on autonomous weapons or written requirement that humans must authorize weapons engagement,” he said.

Martell said he was attracted to the role because his remit was “responsible AI.”

“For me, whenever there are lives on the line, humans should be in the loop,” he said, adding the Pentagon needed to have robust ethical guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence in warfare and to ensure that machines would be “99.999 percent correct before any were deployed.”

But he said he didn’t fear a future with “Skynet,” a reference to a future in which advanced AI could threaten humans as was portrayed in the Terminator movie series.

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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