Posted: April 10, 2018 1:29 PM

U.S. Focused on Honing AI Prowess Against Near-Peer Competitors

By DANIELLE LUCEY, Editor-in-Chief

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin said about artificial intelligence (AI), “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” And panelists at Sea-Air-Space’s April 10 panel on the topic highlighted the United States’ technology advantages — and detailed Russia’s plans to catch up.

Dr. Fred Kennedy, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Tactical Technology Office, said AI will be a prime focus of U.S. defense to provide “surprise capabilities” to get our adversaries to alter their decision-making.

“Autonomy and AI are going to be extremely significant in any of the platforms, and systems of platforms, that we will be designing in the future,” he said.

DARPA has been focused on AI and autonomy for decades, said Kennedy, spearheading the Grand and Urban Challenges as a way to take Soldiers out of harm’s way through the technology. But now, with the advent of big data and impressive advances in machine learning, like image and natural language classification, DARPA is pivoting to ensure that the data coming out of its algorithms are valid and easily understood by the human-in-the-loop. That’s the crux of what DARPA terms the “third wave of AI” and is also feeding its Explainable AI program.

“If you dive down into the neural net, the features these algorithms are pulling out has very little to do with how humans are determining things,” he said. This program aims close that gap.

Samuel Bendett, associate research analyst in CNA’s Russia Studies Program, said that Russia has had top theoretical scientists for years, but has never been very strategic with AI. It is now creating the infrastructure in its Ministry of Defence and providing the funding to change that.

“Today, unlike 10 years ago or 15 years ago, the Russian Ministry of Defence has a lot of resources. … They are more flexible and capable than we have witnessed.”

However, citing Russia’s skeptical stance that ethical issues with autonomous warfare are not pressing, he said the country is still likely behind in its development. 

Margaret Palmieri, director of the Navy Digital Warfare Office, discussed the Navy’s approach to digital warfare, and how it’s essential to co-evolve the human involved in the algorithms alongside the data management itself.

She said AI will challenge the Navy culturally, and it is going to have to evolve its training environments and get into gaming more so operators are more prepared.

“We are only as effective as our blind spots,” she said, when asked to sum up her thoughts on AI innovation by panel moderator, retired Marine Corp Brig. Gen. Frank Kelley, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems.

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