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JUST IN: Pentagon's Joint AI Center Director Urges Faster Adoption of Technology

3/23/2021
By Mandy Mayfield

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The Defense Department has ambitious plans for integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning into the future force, but the miltary needs to move faster in adopting available technologies to keep pace with great power competitors such as China, the director of the Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center said March 23.

“You can see a thousand flowers blooming across the Department of Defense, and that's really powerful, it's a step in the right direction, but we need to start building on it,” Lt. Gen. Michael Groen said during the National Defense Industrial Association’s National Security and AI Conference and Exhibition. “If we want artificial intelligence to be our future, then we have to start building it in the present, right? We need decision-makers, commanders, policymakers, everybody who could benefit from this transformation to start thinking about implementation now.”

Defense officials need to be asking, “How do we start with the mature technologies that we're surrounded by, and then continue to build as the industry expands and the technology improves and the technology expands?” Groen said. "But getting started now is critical."

Artificial intelligence is a top modernization priority for the U.S. military, with officials envisioning a wide range of applications, from back office functions to tactical warfighting scenarios.

One challenge associated with this is taking innovative technologies from research labs and the commercial world and adopting them for practical military use, Groen said.

“This is one of the things that the JAIC ... [is] designed to do,” he said, using an acronym to refer to the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. “Our job is to reach across the Valley of Death [and] pull capabilities into the department from the research-and-development community" and the commercial sector.

The Pentagon needs to move quickly in this area, as rival China continues to be very vocal about its intent to dominate in artificial intelligence by 2030, he noted.

Analysts expect AI to help drive global economic growth during the 2020s.

China "is likely to be the largest beneficiary of this evolution of this $16 trillion industry,” Groen said. 

From a competitiveness perspective, the United States needs to pay attention to the dialogue happening now in Beijing, he said.

One major difference between how the Defense Department is approaching AI compared to adversaries is its focus on ethical principles, he noted.

Last year, the Pentagon rolled out a list of five AI ethical principles based on recommendations from the Defense Innovation Board and other experts inside and outside of government.

Military personnel must exercise appropriate levels of judgment and care while remaining responsible for the development, deployment and use of AI capabilities. The technology should be "equitable" and steps taken to minimize unintended bias. The technology must be traceable. And systems must be reliable and governable, according to the list.

The JAIC has been tasked with developing policies for turning those principles into practice, and leading implementation across the department.

“If you don't have that ethical baseline and that test-and-evaluation baseline that rides on top of it, and the validation verification baseline that rides on top of that, then you're setting yourselves up for AI that you do not trust,” he said. “If AI is not trusted in the department by commanders, decision-makers, etc., then it won't be used."

Topics: Cyber War