Leading the JAIC’s Data Science & Artificial Intelligence (DS&AI)

  • By: The JAIC
JB+B Series: Celebrating Women's History Month


Meet Dr. Carla Cotwright-Williams,
Acting Chief of Data Science& Artificial Intelligence (DS&AI)

Data is the fuel for adopting AI and the Department of Defense wants to leverage data as a strategic asset to accelerate and scale AI in the U.S. military. The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is addressing challenges related to data collection, access, quality, ownership and control, intellectual property protections, and related policies and standards. JAIC’s Director, Lt Gen Shanahan, has acknowledged that “we have to liberate data across the Department.” Dr. Carla Cotwright-Williams, Acting Chief of Data & Artificial Intelligence (DS&AI), has been working diligently on these issues for the JAIC and the larger DoD.

Describe your role as Acting Chief of DS&AI

Dr. Carla Cotwright-Williams
Dr. Carla Cotwright-Williams
Acting Chief of Data Science & Artificial Intelligence (DS&AI)

I’ve had the honor of leading a team of talented subject matter experts as they advise and support the JAIC’s Products Directorate, in particular the JAIC’s mission initiatives, which employ a cross-functional team structure.

This role is critical to achieving the JAIC’s mission to accelerate the adoption and delivery of AI at-scale across the DoD by ensuring that high-quality technical expertise, guidance, and support are applied in the development of AI tools. My team advises the JAIC’s senior leaders and mission initiative leaders on emerging AI and machine learning (ML) trends and developments.

One area of focus for me is creating strategic partnerships with leading scientists and engineers from across the Department to exchange AI/ML best practices. These valued partnerships are helping the JAIC create AI workforce development initiatives. Although many of these partnerships are representative of the broader DoD, we are expanding to industry and academia. The JAIC is making significant strides in this direction.

Personally, I think it’s important to have folks who feel empowered to do their work and enjoy a level of autonomy. I seek to meet people where they are and help them expand to their fullest potential. As such, I endeavor to lead with respect and kindness. You have to be willing to “give it to get it.” I’ve found my colleagues thrive in environments where they feel valued. So, I strive to foster those feelings within them.

What are JAIC’s top data priorities in 2020?

A top data priority for the JAIC is to facilitate the creation of a robust data pipeline architecture, which is a key component of AI development and must be cost-efficient, fast, and reliable. Our mission initiatives, working with DoD Program Offices and Services, have successfully identified and collected data to build AI/ML models that leverage existing DoD data pipelines.

A comprehensive data pipeline architecture provides a number of mission critical advantages:

  • Centralized Data Access
  • Secure Data
  • Improved Data Quality
  • Scalability
  • Monitoring
  • Testing

What do you think the greatest data challenge is currently facing the JAIC?

The DoD Digital Modernization Strategy highlights the complexities of the U.S. military’s data enterprise. The DoD data enterprise consists of “thousands of operational systems, thousands of data centers, tens of thousands of servers, millions of computers and IT devices, and hundreds of thousands of commercial mobile devices.”

Two key challenges are:

  • Providing relevant expertise and guidance to inform the consolidation of disparate data sources from one of the world’s largest and complex set of networks.
  • Ensuring data is easily accessible at an enterprise-network scale is critical. Data must be widely available to enable the acceleration and adoption of AI-enabled capabilities, scale the Department-wide impact of AI, and synchronize DoD AI activities.

How has your career prepared you for your current role?

I have been fortunate enough to work across many sectors throughout my career - academia, industry, and several branches of government. My time as a Congressional Staffer on Capitol Hill was the experience that prepared me most for this role. As a staffer for the majority staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC), I covered a number of relevant policy areas including Science and Technology within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). I had the unique opportunity to travel to Boston to investigate emergency preparedness surrounding the 2013 Marathon Bombings, in preparation for a hearing on the matter. I was privileged to interview the brave men and women of law enforcement and first responders to capture their personal accounts of the bombings.

Working on the Hill, I quickly adapted in an ever-changing environment. My expertise came to bear in different, and often, new ways. Creativity and innovation were paramount to achieve the work of the moment. The JAIC is the DoD’s focal point for AI and requires similar adaptation and flexibility from its personnel in order to launch and stand up the organization.

I feel honored to lead the DS&AI team as it helps to support the JAIC in its critical mission.

For more information about the JAIC and our mission initiatives, please visit www.ai.mil.