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Defense CIO Describes Vision for Joint AI Center

The artificial intelligence innovation hub will gain momentum in 2019.
Dana Deasy, who became the U.S. Defense Department’s chief information officer nearly 100 days ago, has been charged with creating the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

Dana Deasy, who became the U.S. Defense Department’s chief information officer nearly 100 days ago, has been charged with creating the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

The U.S. Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) will see major progress next year, says Dana Deasy, the department’s new chief information officer. The joint center will accelerate the delivery of AI-enabled capabilities and develop tools and technologies that will offer benefits across the military.

Patrick Shanahan, the deputy secretary of defense, first ordered the creation of the JAIC (pronounced Jake) in a June 27 memorandum. The JAIC will guide the execution of so-called national mission initiatives, large-scale, high-budget efforts to apply AI “to a cluster of closely-related, urgent, joint challenges,” the memo states. Those national mission initiatives will be developed in partnership with the military departments and services, joint staff, combatant commands and others.

The center also will leverage cloud adoption to establish a department-wide common foundation for execution in AI that includes the tools, shared data, reusable technologies, processes and expertise to enable rapid delivery and department-wide scaling of AI-enabled capabilities, the memo adds.

It also will take over Project Maven, an AI program, and will collaborate on any project within the department with a budget of more than $15 million.

“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,” Shanahan says in the memo. “A new approach is required to increase the speed and agility with which we deliver AI-enabled capabilities and adapt our way of fighting.”

The defense CIO offers a bottom line. “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.”

Building 15 AI-enabled solutions that solve problems across the services and then deploy at scale “would be a really good outcome,” but building 100 unique solutions with limited applicability would not, he adds.

Deasy, who has been on the job fewer than 100 days, tells SIGNAL Magazine he will use the remainder of this year to complete some of the basics of setting up a new organization, such as hiring personnel, working out the national mission initiatives that will serve as the JAIC’s focus and establishing a location, or possibly multiple locations. “We’ll be in a position to start up after the first of the year, and then 2019 will be a year when we’ll start to develop these tools,” Deasy says.

He explains what the JAIC is by first describing what it is not. “It is not going to be the singular place where every single AI solution gets built. That is just not pragmatic, nor is it an effective way to go about it,” he asserts.

The CIO describes the center as a flywheel providing momentum for AI technologies. The prevailing practice when building AI solutions is to use common tools and common processes and reusing lessons learned by others. “This is the place where we want to house the common tools, the common re-use. This is where we want to teach people the fundamental way to jumpstart the build-out of solutions,” Deasy offers.

Deasy also pushes back at the suggestion the JAIC will be a coordination center for AI programs. “This is where real talent will exist, real tools will exist and real capability to help build out things will exist,” Deasy insists. “I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that this is just one big place that gets stuff coordinated.”

Personnel at the JAIC will work closely with research labs, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which conducts basic scientific research.

“You need people to look at the future, where the technology’s going, the art of the possible. That’s where we’re going to be looking at and leaning on DARPA,” Deasy states. On the other hand, DARPA researchers need others to adopt and apply the technologies they develop. “They are doing the science side of this. We are doing the applying side.”

The JAIC also will partner with industry and academia, which may help determine where it will be located. “We are looking at a potential hub-and-spoke model where there will be a center and then there might be some satellite locations that might sit next to some universities,” Deasy says. “That will allow us to connect to really smart people in the academia world to help us solve some of these big problems.”

Some Defense Department officials and other experts have warned that the United States is falling behind competitors, such as Russia and China, in the development and application of AI technologies. One reason AI is so important is that it can potentially increase military effectiveness across warfighting domains and missions. “It cuts across all elements of the department. That means the back office as well as the warfighter. Everything from supply chain and transportation all the way out to better equipping the warfighters with the right intelligence to do their jobs,” Deasy states.

In honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Dana Deasy will be featured in the October issue of SIGNAL Magazine.