Defense Department Charts New Course on Artificial Intelligence

Defense Department Charts New Course on Artificial Intelligence

In May, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis drafted a memo to President Donald Trump stressing the urgent need for a national strategy on artificial intelligence. Subsequently, on 27 June, the Pentagon announced the creation of a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), dubbed “The Jake” by defense officials.

The Department of Defense (DoD) policy memorandum setting JAIC in motion provides the following mission rationale:  “to preserve and expand our military advantage and enable business reform, we must pursue AI applications with boldness and alacrity while ensuring strong commitment to military ethics and AI safety.”

The new center will be headed by Brendan McCord, a former Navy officer and AI/machine-learning start-up executive who has been running DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) in Silicon Valley, and who will report through the DoD structure to the DoD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy.

JAIC responsibilities include:

  • Guiding the execution of National Mission Initiatives (NMI), large scale initiatives to apply AI to a cluster of closely related, urgent, joint challenges…developed in partnership with the military departments, the tri-services and other DoD components.
  • Establishing a Defense-wide common foundation for execution of AI that includes the tools, shared data, reusable technologies, processes and expertise to enable rapid delivery and scaling of AI-enabled capabilities.
  • Collaborating across DoD, across government, and with industry, academia and U.S. allies to highlight critical needs, address operational problems, and adapt AI technologies for defense missions.
  • Developing a governance framework and standards for AI development and delivery.

The policy memorandum further directs the Defense CIO to report back in 30 days with an initial list of National Mission Initiatives for AI to be launched within 90 days, and the associated FY2018 and FY2019 resource plans.

The New York Times (26 August 2018) reports anonymous defense sources as indicating that DoD plans to fund the JAIC at $1.7 billion over five years, beginning with the shift of $75 million in FY 2018 funding from other sources.

In remarks unveiling the JAIC, McCord stressed the importance of building relationships with traditional and non-traditional innovators, and attempted to reassure Silicon Valley critics of DoD’s controversial efforts to employ AI for facial recognition (i.e., Project Maven) by emphasizing that JAIC would include a strong focus on AI-related ethics, humanitarian considerations and safety.

In an interview for Signal magazine (10 August 2018), CIO Deasy outlined his thoughts on the new JAIC, noting, “This is all about doing two things incredibly well: we’ve got to move at a lot faster pace and then do this at scale.”  He noted that the priority for the balance of 2018 will be setting up the new organization, and that “2019 will be a year when we’ll start to develop these tools.”  At the same time, he cautioned that JAIC “is not going to be a singular place where every single AI solution gets built,” but instead will serve as a place “to house the common tools, the common re-use. This is where we want to teach people the fundamental way to jump start the build-out of solutions.”


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