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AI will permeate the Pentagon ‘from cyberspace to outer space, everywhere between’: JAIC director

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The director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) says that the foundations are being laid to have AI and machine learning systems permeating every area of the Department of Defense (DoD), but there are many challenges.

JAIC Director Lieutenant General Jack Shanahan told the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies on June 4 that the Pentagon is looking to completely transform itself through AI, both internally and externally in its operations.

Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan
Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan

“From the back office to the battlefield, from under sea to cyberspace and outer space, and all points in between — everything could be made better through through the application of AI,” — Lt. Gen. Shanahan

“It is my conviction and my deep passion that AI will transform the character of warfare and the Department of Defense over the course of the next 20 years,” said Shanahan.

“There is no part of the department that will not be impacted by this. From the back office to the battlefield, and as I like to say, from under sea to cyberspace and outer space, and all points in between — everything could be made better through through the application of AI,” he added.

AI is set to disrupt the future of warfare in the five warfare domains: Air, Space, Cyber, Land, and Maritime.

“Technology by itself is just technology. Our inherited advantage is the idea of coming up with operating concepts” — Lt. Gen. Shanahan

In order to have AI solutions work seamlessly across all five warfare domains the Pentagon launched the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) framework.

“The vision for the JADC2 communication network-of-networks is connecting ‘every sensor, every shooter’ by having data flow across the five domains of warfare: sea, air, land, cyber and space,” according to FedScoop.

A report by Congressional Research Service elaborated on why the evolution towards the JADC2 architecture was taking place.

“The US military contends that future conflicts within a sophisticated, highly contested, anti-access/area denial environment will be won by the side with an information advantage, enabling the ability to outpace, outthink, and outmaneuver adversaries across multiple domains,” the report reads.

Shanahan told the Mitchell Institute that the AI overhaul taking place within the DoD will forever change the department.

“The department sometimes doesn’t have a great track record on the trust side” — Lt. Gen. Shanahan

“We’re trying to talk about the department as a very different department,” he said, adding how difficult it was to sell the idea to Congress because figuring out a budget is no easy task, and it is almost impossible to give an accurate figure of how much it would cost given how quickly the technology changes as it advances.

Shanahan added that the struggle with going to Capitol Hill to talk about budgeting was, “How do I translate power point-deep ideas into ‘trust me?'”

“This is a hard thing,” he said, adding, “the department sometimes doesn’t have a great track record on the trust side, so what I always say is ‘hold us accountable.’

“If I can’t tell you exactly what that dollar amount is, you can hold me accountable for delivery of product.”

“The foundational elements are now in place. What we have to do in the course of the next 1-2 years is deliver” — Lt. Gen. Shanahan

Working with the commercial sector can help speed up deliveries while holding the DoD accountable, but partnerships between the private and public sectors have their own unique challenges, according to the lieutenant general.

“The foundational elements are now in place. What we have to do in the course of the next 1-2 years is deliver. We have to show that we’re making a difference. We’ve got to show real delivery for the Department of Defense,” said Shanahan.

“What the department has struggled with, and wrestled with for the last few years is how to take the world’s best AI R&D, bring it across that so-called ‘technology valley of death’ and field it at speed and at scale,” he added.

Being one of the five warfare domains, cyberspace has been a domain where the Pentagon has been working extensively with the private sector for its cybersecurity solutions.

“You can’t look at the future of the department in cyber without introducing artificial intelligence and machine learning” — Lt. Gen. Shanahan

However, each private cybersecurity company has its own way of solving problems, which presents challenges for interoperability with other private cybersecurity companies that the Pentagon works with.

“We have our own challenges in the department. Over two dozen cybersecurity service providers do things a slightly different way,” said Shanahan.

“When one company comes in from the outside and gives us a ‘solution’ to our cyber defense problems, it turns out it solves one problem, not the other 23 cybersecurity service providers,” he added.

“We’re not at war with other countries, but we are in an information war environment in cyberspace” — Lt. Gen. Shanahan

Of all the warfare domains, cyber is unique in that it is an environment where information war takes place.

“We’re not at war with other countries, but we are in an information war environment in cyberspace,” said Shanahan.

He added that algorithmic warfare is happening so fast that the Pentagon will need to rely on machine-to-machine interactions to keep up with adversaries like China and Russia in this warfare domain.

“You can’t look at the future of the department in cyber without introducing artificial intelligence and machine learning — mostly machine learning with some elements of Natural Language Processing,” said Shanahan.

“There are a lot of commercial solutions, but it’s about bringing those in and offering up the entire department, so they’re not stove-piped in one unit” — Lt. Gen. Shanahan

Interoperability and networking across domains is what JADC2 is about, and artificial intelligence and machine learning are the backbone to all of this, according to Shanahan.

“There are a lot of commercial solutions, but it’s about bringing those in and offering up the entire department, so they’re not stove-piped in one unit, in one organization somewhere, and then once we get past the defensive piece — protecting our networks, understanding what network mapping is, what incident detection can do, what unauthorized user activity monitoring can do — we’re starting to see good examples of that well beyond the JAIC,” he said.

According to the JAIC director, the first 18 months have been spent laying the foundation and doing the groundwork to adopt AI into every system while learning how to put all the defenses in place.

“How do we take that great work that we’ve learned from the defensive side and shift to an offensive mentality?” — Lt. Gen. Shanahan

Next, it’s about going on the offensive.

“What does offensive look like?” asked Shanahan, adding, “That’s the big growth over the course of the next 1-2 years.

“Now, how do we take that great work that we’ve learned from the defensive side and shift to an offensive mentality?”

America’s technological advantage over China and Russia, according to the Lieutenant General, will be dependent on how the Pentagon makes use of the technology, for which Shanahan said, “The only failure we’ll have is failure of imagination.”

“It is my conviction and my deep passion that AI will transform the character of warfare and the Department of Defense over the course of the next 20 years” — Lt. Gen. Shanahan

“Technology by itself is just technology. Our inherited advantage is the idea of coming up with operating concepts around things like AI, 5G, blockchain, cloud, and eventually maybe quantum — that’s a little farther out, but even that could surprise us in how quickly it could come,” he added.

“We tend to overestimate the impacts of technology in the short term; underestimate those impacts in the long term.

“I believe that’s where we are with AI. I do believe we’re going to hit that inflection point and the exponential growth of this will happen, and it will happen faster than probably a lot of people understand right now,” said Shanahan.

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is the editor of The Sociable. His passions include writing about how technology impacts society and the parallels between Artificial Intelligence and Mythology. Previously, he was a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa and an editor at Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co