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Carnegie Mellon announces new Lockheed Martin research agreement

Late last month, Carnegie Mellon University and Lockheed Martin entered a new stage of their longstanding research relationship in the signing of a new master research agreement, which aims to “guide future joint research projects and enable the organizations to respond quickly to new opportunities,” a Carnegie Mellon press release states.

This new agreement comes following over 30 years of collaboration with Lockheed Martin, a prominent aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company, and one of the world’s largest defense contractors.

Currently, no funding matters have been finalized, as the agreement is new, and as specific projects get funded separately.

At the signing event, Carnegie Mellon University vice president for research Michael McQuade stated that the university is “especially pleased that Lockheed Martin is joining our CMU AI ecosystem, advancing a technology that will be critical for our nation’s welfare.”

Lockheed Martin Vice President for Technology Strategy and Innovation Robie I. Samanta Roy stated at the event that “Lockheed Martin is making significant investments in AI, so expanding our research partnership with CMU was a natural next step that will help us to continue accelerating the pace of innovation and create next-generation and generation-after-next technologies.”

In an interview with The Tartan, McQuade expressed excitement in the ability of agreements like this one to “[create] a direct link to real-world experiences for our faculty and students,” and explained that it “is just one way that our faculty and students stay current on technology trends and continue to push the envelope of what is possible through research.”

He also explained that the master research agreement, now signed, “sets overall terms and conditions for future projects” but no “specific projects have been determined yet.”

Defense research partnerships like this one, and the recently launched Army AI Task Force, have raised concerns among students and faculty about research ethics and community input in research partnership choice.

McQuade stated that there is no mention of ethics in the agreement with Lockheed Martin, but that it would have been atypical for such a clause given that agreements like this one just set the “framework for terms and conditions between the sponsor and CMU.”

He holds that “CMU, as a world-class university, always takes into consideration the ethical and social impacts of everything it does. This is no exception. We never ask faculty or students to work on projects that they view as against their values.”

Before earning a position at Carnegie Mellon, McQuade served as the Senior Vice President for Science & Technology at United Technologies Corporation, which among other things, manufactured engines and systems for aircrafts, earning them around 10 percent of revenue in government funding.

To this past experience in the defense sector, McQuade states it “provides useful insight into how industry partners want to engage with universities, their priorities and their emphasis on timeliness, and the real value they see in fundamental academic research,” but notes that his experience doesn’t apply to just defense partners.

Last month, Robert Strauss, a Carnegie Mellon professor of economics and public policy, explained to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that as the Army AI Task Force “occurred without internal CMU discussion [that I am aware of], shows that the line has blurred now.” He continued, “it reflects a continued, accelerating decline in the faculty governance in the university.”

This new agreement with Lockheed Martin, though bearing many differences with the recently established Army AI Task Force, does raise similar community concerns in the militarization of Carnegie Mellon research.

McQuade defends the agreement by stating that Lockheed Martin were selected as a research partner after looking into a “wide range of factors,” but does not cite student insight as one of them. He cites faculty interest in the work of Lockheed Martin as one of the metrics considered.
“It is also important to note that Carnegie Mellon University faculty and students always have the flexibility to pursue the research projects that best fulfill their interests and curiosities. This ensures they have the freedom to participate, or not participate, in the initiatives of their choosing,” McQuade concluded.

This past week, McQuade was taking meetings at the Pentagon with “our sponsors in the DOD” and with “other government leaders” to “make sure CMU’s capabilities are viewed positively and that we are represented in the national dialogue about university research,” he said.

Whether partnerships like this one with Lockheed Martin are popular or unpopular among students and faculty, it does not appear that they will cease any time soon. McQuade assures the university, “I think this is very good for the university community and for our partners.”