Making AI Real: Department of Defense AI Symposium Day 1

  • By: The JAIC

Yesterday, the JAIC kicked off its inaugural two-day DoD AI Symposium. Over 3000 virtual attendees heard from the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Mark T. Esper, several other notable leaders, and visited over 100 booths in the Exhibition Hall.

Here are a few highlights from the information-filled day:

Welcome Remarks from JAIC’s Acting Director, Nand Mulchandani

“The future of AI and DoD rests in your hands”

Mr. Mulchandani opened the Symposium by encouraging each attendee to make AI real and use the World War II historical context to begin mobilizing and planting their own “AI victory gardens.” He acknowledged that the Department’s AI mission is broad and challenging, but our innovative workforce is ready. Mr. Mulchandani stated that “success will require the entire community, together we can make it real.”

Keynote from the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John E. Hyten

“We have to do business differently” 

General Hyten also acknowledged the historic, moonshot-like moment the Department is in. Keeping with the previous historical reference, he quoted a lesser-known 1962 President John F. Kennedy speech in an AI context, “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained and new rights to be won…for space science has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide if this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.” General Hyten emphasized that DoD’s AI ecosystem is being asked the same question today. He encouraged the Department to partner with industry and “get out of our own way.” General Hyten called out the need for more rapid software development within the Department and a cultural shift that is necessary for the future. “The DoD AI community must understand that speed is the critical piece in this entire process,” he concluded.

Insights from the National Security Commission on AI, Hon. Katharina McFarland

“AI is here to stay, we must adapt”

As the Chair of the National Academies of Science Board of Army Research and Development, Ms. McFarland discussed her Commission’s AI recommendations. “We must prepare for the implications of integrating AI into our military systems and Departmental business processes,” she stated. Ms. McFarland also implored the attendees to ensure ethics and safety were at the core of the DoD AI ecosystem’s efforts. She heralded the JAIC’s Business Process Transformation mission initiative and the upcoming Tradewind platform that will leverage acquisition collaboration across the Department and its industrial complex. “To leverage AI long term, we must take significant adaptive actions now,” Ms. McFarland advised.

Secretary of Defense, Dr. Mark T. Esper

“AI is in a league of its own”

Keeping in line with many of his previous AI remarks, Secretary Esper emphasized that the Department must stay ahead of our “near peer rivals.” He lauded the largest research and development budget in history for accelerating the development of critical technologies that will enable our military to outpace our strategic competitors and maintain our overmatch. Secretary Esper enumerated many of the ways our strategic competitors are utilizing AI and described the actions as “digital authoritarianism.” He also took the time to detail the JAIC’s training opportunities and many accomplishments since its inception. To conclude, he reinforced his commitment to reforming outdated policies, divesting away from legacy systems, modernizing acquisitions, and strengthening the Department’s academic and industry partnerships.

The day also included a fireside chat between Mr. Mulchandani and Mr. Michael Kratsios, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; a Research and Engineering roundtable discussion on rapid agile development; a conversation with David Spirk, DoD’s Chief Data Officer; and a cross-JAIC acquisitions discussion.

The excitement will continue today as we hear from Mr. Dana Deasy, DoD’s CIO, Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and Dr. Jason Matheny of the National Security Commission on AI. Additionally, there will be 21 subject-focused panels and breakout sessions representing a cross section of the DoD AI community including technology incubators like KesselRun and Defense Innovation Unit, each of the Services, and the JAIC.