ScaleAI, a company co-founded by Alex Wang in 2016, is positioning itself as a pivotal player in America's AI-driven military landscape. This tech firm specializes in data organization and labeling to train AI algorithms, and it has been fervently advocating its role in supporting the U.S. military's ongoing competition with China. ScaleAI offers its expertise to enhance the Pentagon's data analysis capabilities, develop superior autonomous vehicles, and even create AI-powered chatbots to assist military commanders during combat scenarios.
Notably, ScaleAI secured a significant contract worth $249 million in the previous year to deliver a range of AI technologies to the Department of Defense. Beyond this, its list of clients includes the Army, Air Force, the Marine Corps University, and renowned military truck manufacturer Oshkosh.
In a groundbreaking move this May, ScaleAI became the first AI company to deploy a "large language model," similar to the technology underpinning chatbots like ChatGPT, on a classified network. This achievement was realized through a partnership with the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps. The ScaleAI chatbot, known as "Donovan," has been designed to expedite the decision-making process for military commanders by summarizing intelligence.
The U.S. military has been meticulously integrating AI into its long-term strategy. This encompasses plans to deploy autonomous ships and aircraft, employ algorithms for logistics enhancement by predicting component replacements, and harness image-recognition technology to analyze drone footage, thereby reducing the workload of human analysts.
ScaleAI has been uniquely poised to leverage the recent surge in AI development, catalyzed by OpenAI's release of ChatGPT to the public. The company has successfully raised hundreds of millions of dollars and garnered an impressive valuation of over $7 billion in 2021, making Alex Wang the world's youngest self-made billionaire at the time, according to Forbes.
However, the competition for military contracts is intense. Tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are making concerted efforts to secure Pentagon partnerships. Notably, in December 2022, these three tech behemoths, along with business software firm Oracle, were granted exclusive rights to bid for $9 billion in cloud computing contracts throughout the Defense Department. This heightened competition may encroach on ScaleAI's ambitions in the military sector. Meanwhile, a burgeoning cohort of startups, including Shield AI and Helsing, are also gaining momentum and seeking to provide their AI technologies to the military.
The use of AI in military entities has raised concerns among arms control advocates who fear that it may gradually reduce human involvement in critical decision-making processes on the battlefield. Autonomous capabilities have already existed in certain weapons, and drones equipped with the ability to automatically identify and target subjects without human authorization are already part of military arsenals worldwide. While the U.S. military asserts that humans will always remain "in the loop," studies indicate that individuals are prone to heed the advice of authoritative-sounding machines over their own judgment.
Alex Wang, the co-founder of ScaleAI, underlines that the company is not solely reliant on military contracts for success. He emphasizes that their collaboration with the Pentagon stems from a genuine desire to bolster the United States' global influence, especially as the 21st century introduces a host of conflicts and complexities to the world stage. Wang said, "In this extremely abrupt and sharp technology transition, if Scale can be the company that helps ensure that the United States maintains this leadership position, that is a very real and very tangible impact”.