“Advances in AI have the potential to change the character of warfare for generations to come. Whichever nation harnesses AI first will have a decisive advantage on the battlefield for many, many years. We have to get there first,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper proclaimed during the Artificial Intelligence Public Conference in November 2019.
Getting there first is not something the Department of Defense can do alone; it requires cooperation between the DoD and AI industry experts and thought leaders.
Four of those thought leaders were on-hand during the most recent episode of Think Differently: Josh Marcuse, Head of Strategy and Innovation for Google’s Global Public Sector; Jen Sovada, Chief Futures Officer at MissionTech Solutions; Anthony Robbins, President AFCEA DC and VP NVIDIA; and Kim Kendall, who leads DAU’s Artificial Intelligence/Adaptive Learning initiative.
Each offered their own definition of AI and the challenges and opportunities that AI presents to the DoD.
Marcuse said that, while AI is often “anthropomorphized like artificial human intelligence,” it is actually “increasingly sophisticated forms of machine intelligence,” specifically identifying predictive text as an ubiquitous technology many people are accustomed to.
“Predictive text was considered cutting edge,” he said, “[but] we now take it for granted.”
He urged acquisition professionals to view AI as a technology that “touches everything, but isn’t everything,” putting an emphasis on the importance of data and how, with a proper understanding of AI’s limitations and capabilities, they can focus on “the things human intelligence is uniquely suited to.”
He concluded by encouraging acquisitions professionals to advocate for the adoption of AI.
“All the progress is made by people like you who believe the next contract can make the difference,” he said. “And my exhortation is please don’t give up because if your generation doesn’t turn the tables on this, I just don’t know if it will happen.”
Sovada, a retired Air Force colonel and TEDxDAU speaker, said she defined AI as a way “to empower computers to perform with the higher intellectual functions we have in our brains, so we can acquire and use that data.”
She explained that it’s less about “what is happening” and more about “the why and what’s next."
AI, she noted, is just as important to the DoD as it is to our adversaries, adding that China is making significant advances in AI and “Putin says those who are in charge of AI are going to win in this world.”
To bridge this gap, she recommended the U.S. Government learn from commercial best practices.
“Let’s look at ‘how do we develop on the low side?’ and then push it into the DoD networks,” she said.
Like Marcuse, she spoke to the importance of jumping with both feet and made a point of addressing the pivotal role that acquisitions officers can play in adopting and implementing AI.
“If we don’t understand how to acquire AI, we won’t be able to put it into place,” she said. “Learn about AI. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t stop what you’re doing. We have to continue to move forward regardless of the roadblocks.”
Robbins, who brought an industry perspective to the discussion, called AI “the most exciting technology transformation in the history of the Government" that requires more progress and an understanding there is not an all-in-one solution.
"There’s not going to be one platform that meets all the government’s requirements when it comes to AI,” he said, noting that "fear, uncertainty, and doubt" by the Government prevented widespread DoD adoption from proceeding quickly.
"It’s really as much about leading change and transformation as it is about technology," he said.
To expedite the adoption of AI, “we have to get to the middle managers in government [who], Robbins said, “own the budget and the systems in place today and they are responsible for what might be used tomorrow.”
As for those in a position to act, he encouraged them to do so without delay.
“It’s incumbent upon us to move forward [and] just get started,” Robbins said.
With a significant number of Federal employees on the cusp of retirement, DAU Professor of Cybersecurity Kim Kendall noted that there should be a sense of urgency to complete the same responsibilities with fewer people.
"[AI is] a partner in helping us make our processes more efficient,” she said. “It’s important we see AI not as taking jobs away but helping focus on more value-added jobs. It can create more capacity in our workforce, reducing the agency’s overall workload, so they can focus on higher value tasks rather than the more routine or standard work.”
She is currently leading an initiative at DAU to improve learning effectiveness and efficiency through emerging technologies such as AI. She asked listeners to “imagine taking a DAU course where it’s different for every person based on knowledge and skill,” which is something she hopes to achieve.
“We want the course to adapt in real time for the learner and take advantage of those process efficiencies,” she said. “The learning should be as efficient and effective in the shortest amount of time. We want to accelerate this experience and reduce the time away from their workplace.”
Kendall and her team are also attempting to use AI to sort through and better organize DAU’s existing data with natural language processing “to grade unstructured assessments, questions, and homework so instructors can focus more on the content.”
But, she warned, “it’s key we align AI with our mission goals and select the right kind of AI—it’s not one size fits all.”
She advised those working with AI to have a plan and “know when it’s useful and when it’s not mature enough.”
The webcast episode concluded with a question-and-answer session, which gave listeners the opportunity to follow up specific points mentioned. The main point, however, needed no clarification.,
“2020 should be the year of AI,” Robbins said.
Think Differently is a monthly, moderated webcast that focuses on cutting edge technology and the impacts they have on the military, Department of Defense and learning environments. The next episode - Leaders Never Stop Learning - will air July 8, 2020, and feature panelists from the US Air Force AI initiative, War on the Rocks, and DODReads.com discussing inspiration and the impact it has on how they read, write and create platforms that empower individuals to lead and drive their missions forward.
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