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In a hearing on March 12, the sub-committee on emerging threats and capabilities received testimonies on Artificial Intelligence Initiatives within the Department of Defense(DoD).

The panel included Peter Highnam, Deputy Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Michael Brown, DoD Defense Innovation Unit Director; and Lieutenant General John Shanahan, director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC). The panel broadly testified to senators that AI will significantly transform DoD’s capabilities and that it is critical the U.S. remain competitive with China and Russia in developing AI applications.

Dr. Peter T. Highnam on DARPA’s achievements and future goals

Dr. Peter T. Highnam, Deputy Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency talked about DARPA’s significant role in the development of AI technologies that have produced game-changing capabilities for the Department of Defense and beyond. In his testimony, he mentions, “DARPA’s AI Next effort is simply a continuing part of its 166 historic investment in the exploration and advancement of AI technologies.”

Dr. Highnam highlighted different waves of AI technologies.

The first wave, which was nearly 70 years ago, emphasized handcrafted knowledge, and computer scientists constructed so-called expert systems that captured the rules that the system could then apply to situations of interest. However, handcrafting rules was costly and time-consuming.

The second wave that brought in machine learning that applies statistical and probabilistic methods to large data sets to create generalized representations that can be applied to future samples. However, this required training deep learning (artificial) neural networks with a variety of classification and prediction tasks when adequate historical data. Therein lies the rub, however, as the task of collecting, labelling, and vetting data on which to train. Such a process is prohibitively costly and time-consuming too.

He says, “DARPA envisions a future in which machines are more than just tools that execute human programmed rules or generalize from human-curated data sets. Rather, the machines DARPA envisions will function more as colleagues than as tools.”

Towards this end, DARPA is focusing its investments on a “third wave” of AI technologies that brings forth machines that can reason in context. Incorporating these technologies in military systems that collaborate with warfighters will facilitate better decisions in complex, time-critical, battlefield environments; enable a shared understanding of massive, incomplete, and contradictory information; and empower unmanned systems to perform critical missions safely and with high degrees of autonomy.

DARPA’s more than $2 billion “AI Next” campaign, announced in September 2018, includes providing robust foundations for second wave technologies, aggressively applying the second wave AI technologies into appropriate systems, and exploring and creating third wave AI science and technologies.

DARPA’s third wave research efforts will forge new theories and methods that will make it possible for machines to adapt contextually to changing situations, advancing computers from tools to true collaborative partners. Furthermore, the agency will be fearless about exploring these new technologies and their capabilities – DARPA’s core function – pushing critical frontiers ahead of our nation’s adversaries.

To know more about this in detail, read Dr. Peter T. Highnam’s complete statement.

Michael Brown on (Defense Innovation Unit) DIU’s efforts in Artificial Intelligence

Michael Brown, Director of the Defense Innovation Unit, started the talk by highlighting on the fact how China and Russia are investing heavily to become dominant in AI.  “By 2025, China will aim to achieve major breakthroughs in AI and increase its domestic market to reach $59.6 billion (RMB 400 billion) To achieve these targets, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (China’s industrial policy-making agency) funded the creation of a national AI laboratory, and Chinese local governments have pledged more than $7 billion in AI funding”, Brown said in his statement.

He said that these Chinese firms are in a way leveraging U.S. talent by setting up research institutes in the state, investing in U.S. AI-related startups and firms, recruiting U.S.-based talent, and commercial and academic partnerships.

Brown said that DIU will engage with DARPA and JAIC(Joint Artificial Intelligence Center) and also make its commercial knowledge and relationships with potential vendors available to any of the Services and Service Labs. DIU also anticipates that with its close partnership with the JAIC, DIU will be at the leading edge of the Department’s National Mission Initiatives (NMIs), proving that commercial technology can be applied to critical national security challenges via accelerated prototypes that lay the groundwork for future scaling through JAIC.

“DIU looks to bring in key elements of AI development pursued by the commercial sector, which relies heavily on continuous feedback loops, vigorous experimentation using data, and iterative development, all to achieve the measurable outcome, mission impact”, Brown mentions.

DIU’s AI portfolio team combines depth of commercial AI, machine learning, and data science experience from the commercial sector with military operators. However, they have specifically prioritized projects that address three major impact areas or use cases which employ AI technology, including:

Computer vision

The DIU is prototyping computer vision algorithms in humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery scenarios. “This use of AI holds the potential to automate post-disaster assessments and accelerate search and rescue efforts on a global scale”, Brown said in his statement.

Large dataset analytics and predictions

DIU is prototyping predictive maintenance applications for Air Force and Army platforms. For this DIU plans to partner with JAIC to scale this solution across multiple aircraft platforms, as well as ground vehicles beginning with DIU’s complementary predictive maintenance project focusing on the Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Brown says this is one of DIU’s highest priority projects for FY19 given its enormous potential for impact on readiness and reducing costs.

Strategic reasoning

DIU is prototyping an application from Project VOLTRON that leverages AI to reason about high-level strategic questions, map probabilistic chains of events, and develop alternative strategies. This will make DoD owned systems more resilient to cyber attacks and inform program offices of configuration errors faster and with fewer errors than humans.

Know more about what more DIU plans in partnership with DARPA and JAIC, in detail, in Michael Brown’s complete testimony.

Lieutenant General Jack Shanahan on making JAIC “AI-Ready”

Lieutenant General Jack Shanahan, Director, Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, touches upon  how the JAIC is partnering with the Under Secretary of Defense (USD) Research & Engineering (R&E), the role of the Military Services, the Department’s initial focus areas for AI delivery, and how JAIC is supporting whole-of-government efforts in AI.

“To derive maximum value from AI application throughout the Department, JAIC will operate across an end-to-end lifecycle of problem identification, prototyping, integration, scaling, transition, and sustainment. Emphasizing commerciality to the maximum extent practicable, JAIC will partner with the Services and other components across the Joint Force to systematically identify, prioritize, and select new AI mission initiatives”, Shanahan mentions in his testimony.

The AI capability delivery efforts that will go through this lifecycle will fall into two categories including National Mission Initiatives (NMI) and Component Mission Initiatives (CMI).

NMI is an operational or business reform joint challenge, typically identified from the National Defense Strategy’s key operational problems and requiring multi-service innovation, coordination, and the parallel introduction of new technology and new operating concepts.

On the other hand, Component Mission Initiatives (CMI) is a component-level challenge that can be solved through AI. JAIC will work closely with individual components on CMIs to help identify, shape, and accelerate their Component-specific AI deployments through:

  • funding support;
  • usage of common foundational tools, libraries, cloud infrastructure;
  • application of best practices;
  • partnerships with industry and academia; and so on.

The Component will be responsible for identifying and implementing the organizational structure required to accomplish its project in coordination and partnership with the JAIC. Following are some examples of early NMI’s by JAIC to deliver mission impact at speed, demonstrate the proof of concept for the JAIC operational model, enable rapid learning and iterative process refinement, and build their library of reusable tools while validating JAIC’s enterprise cloud architecture.


Improve the speed, completeness, and accuracy of Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (PED). Shanahan says Project Maven’s efforts are included here.

Predictive Maintenance (PMx)

Provide computational tools to decision-makers to help them better forecast, diagnose, and manage maintenance issues to increase availability, improve operational effectiveness, and ensure safety, at a reduced cost.

Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR)

Reduce the time associated with search and discovery, resource allocation decisions, and executing rescue and relief operations to save lives and livelihood during disaster operations. Here, JAIC plans to apply lessons learned and reusable tools from Project Maven to field AI capabilities in support of federal responses to events such as wildfires and hurricanes—where DoD plays a supporting role.

Cyber Sensemaking

Detect and deter advanced adversarial cyber actors who infiltrate and operate within the DoD Information Network (DoDIN) to increase DoDIN security, safeguard sensitive information, and allow warfighters and engineers to focus on strategic analysis and response.

Shanahan states, “Under the DoD CIO’s authorities and as delineated in the JAIC establishment memo, JAIC will coordinate all DoD AI-related projects above $15 million annually.” “It does mean that we will start to ensure, for example, that they begin to leverage common tools and libraries, manage data using best practices, reflect a common governance framework, adhere to rigorous testing and evaluation methodologies, share lessons learned, and comply with architectural principles and standards that enable scale”, he further added.

To know more about this in detail, read Lieutenant General Jack Shanahan’s complete testimony.

To know more about this news in detail, watch the entire hearing on ‘Artificial Intelligence Initiatives within the Department of Defense

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