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AI experts want to get their tech to troops in the field

(Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dylan Chagnon)

Two Defense Department artificial-intelligence experts testified on Capitol Hill Dec.11, 2018, on DOD's efforts to transform delivery of capabilities enabled by artificial intelligence to the nation's warfighters.

Lisa Porter, deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, and Dana Deasy, DOD's chief information officer, testified at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities.


The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019 directed the defense secretary to conduct a comprehensive national review of advances in AI relevant to the needs of the military services. Section 238 directed the secretary to craft a strategic plan to develop, mature, adopt and transition AI technologies into operational use.

"Today we are experiencing an explosion of interest in a subfield of AI called machine learning, where algorithms have become remarkably good at classification and prediction tasks when they can be trained on very large amounts of data," Porter told the House panel. Today's AI capabilities offer potential solutions to many defense-specific problems, such as object identification in drone video or satellite imagery and detection of cyber threats on networks, she said.

Deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Lisa Porter.

However, she added, several issues must be addressed to effectively apply AI to national security mission problems.

"First, objective evaluation of performance requires the use of quantitative metrics that are relevant to the specific use case," she said. "In other words, AI systems that have been optimized for commercial applications may not yield effective outcomes in military applications."

Challenges, vulnerabilities

DOD is working to address such challenges and vulnerabilities in multiple ways, she said, most of which will leverage the complementary roles of the new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the department's research and engineering enterprise.

Second, Porter said, existing AI systems need enormous amounts of training data, and the preparation of that data in a format that the algorithms can use, in turn, requires a large amount of human labor.

"AI systems that have been trained on one type of data typically do not perform well on data that are different from the training data," she noted.

The JAIC's focus on scaling and integration will drive innovation in data curation techniques, while the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will pursue algorithms that can be "robustly trained with much less data," Porter said.

"The high-performance computing modernization program is designing new systems that will provide ample processing power for AI applications on the battlefield," she added.

Department of Defense Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy.

Countering adversarial AI is one of the key focus areas of DARPA's "AI Next" campaign, she emphasized. "Ultimately, as we look to the future, we anticipate a focus on developing AI systems that have the ability to reason as humans do, at least to some extent," Porter said. "Such a capability would greatly amplify the utility of AI, enabling AI systems to become true partners with their human counterparts in problem solving. It is important that we continue to pursue cutting-edge research in AI, especially given the significant investments our adversaries are making."

Three themes of JAIC effort

Deasy detailed the JAIC and highlighted three themes of its effort.

"The first is delivering AI-enabled capabilities at speed," he said. "JAIC is collaborating now with teams across DOD to systematically identify, prioritize and select mission needs, and then rapidly execute a sequence across functional use cases that demonstrate value and spur momentum."

The second theme is all about scale, he said.

"JAIC's early projects serve a dual purpose: to deliver new capabilities to end users, as well as to incrementally develop the common foundation that is essential for scaling AI's impact across DoD," he explained. "This means [the use of] shared data, reusable tools, libraries, standards, and AI cloud and edge services that helped jumpstart new projects."

The third theme is building the initial JAIC team.

"It's all about talent," he said. "And this will be representative across all the services and all components. Today, we have assembled a force of nearly 30 individuals. Going forward, it is essential that JAIC attract and cultivate a select group of mission-driven, world-class AI talent, including pulling these experts into service from industry."

In November 2018, before more than 600 representatives of 380 companies, academic institutions and government organizations at DOD's AI Industry Day, Deasy said, he announced that the department had achieved a significant milestone: "JAIC is now up and running and open for business."

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.