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‘Exciting, Crucial’ Time in AI Development, Official Tells Innovation Board


Artificial intelligence is a strategic priority for the Defense Department that could transform the way the department operates, the head of machine learning at the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental said yesterday.

“We are in the midst of an exciting and crucial time in the development of AI,” Brendan McCord told a meeting of the Defense Innovation Board, held at DIUx headquarters in Mountain View, California.

McCord pointed out the recent announcement of the creation of DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, or JAIC, saying it is an effort that is significant to the department and the country. “Structurally, we know that AI has the potential to be an enabling layer across nearly everything,” he said, explaining it means countless applications in daily life and could affect all areas of the department.

AI provides the opportunity for humans to “see more deeply, to act with greater precision, to be offered more choices and scenarios, offered better advice,” McCord said, adding that it “changes the nature of things.”

Affecting a Variety of Tasks

Artificial intelligence could affect the way the department does a variety of tasks, such as maintaining equipment, perceiving its environment, training and protecting its members, defending its networks, operating its back office, providing humanitarian aid and responding to disasters, he said.

He highlighted four themes of the JAIC: improving the ability to translate the technology into decisions and impact; helping the department evolve partnerships with industry, academia, allies and partners; attracting and cultivating world-class talent; and supporting the goals of the National Defense Strategy.   

Defense Innovation Board Executive Director Joshua Marcuse said multiple agencies are making progress on projects that align with the board’s recommendations. He highlighted several of those areas: embedding computer science as a core competency; catalyzing innovation in AI and machine learning; implementing acquisition innovation; expanding new approaches to innovation; embedding technical teams at major commands; making computing and bandwidth abundant; taking a new approach to data; and establishing tech and innovation training for senior leaders.

Building Innovation Capacity with Allies, Partners

The DIB is a federal advisory board that launched in April 2016 with a two-year, renewable mandate. It comprises private-sector leaders and innovators to provide recommendations to the secretary of defense and other senior defense leaders in an effort to improve DoD’s processes and apply best practices.

The agenda at yesterday’s quarterly meeting included building innovation capacity with allies and partners, in support of a National Defense Strategy priority of strengthening alliances and creating new partnerships.

“I cannot be prouder of the progress that has occurred,” DIB Chairman Eric Schmidt, technical advisor to the board of Alphabet Inc., said as he closed the meeting, pointing out that senior leaders really want to address the underlying challenges they face.

The board’s last previous meeting was in April in Boston. The next meeting is set for October in the national capital area.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)