Reflecting on History While Looking Forward: DoD Leaders Impart Thoughts About Adopting and Scaling AI at Symposium

  • By: The JAIC

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

On September 9, General John E. Hyten delivered a keynote on the first morning of the 2020 DoD AI Symposium. He acknowledged the historic, moonshot-like moment the Department is in. General Hyten opened with a quote from a lesser-known 1962 President John F. Kennedy speech, “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 the DoD’s AI ecosystem is being asked the same question today.

“Great inventions are coming out of industry. We have to be able to take advantage of, not only that industry, but the research that’s going on. We have to be able to partner with them. We don’t like to do that in the Department of Defense, we like to think we’re still the big dog in the room, and in this case – we’re not. We have to get out of our own way and apply the research and development of others to our problems, which means we have to partner with them. We need the full breadth of industry,” General Hyten stated.

He also called out the need for more rapid software development within the Department and a cultural shift that is necessary for the future. “Software is the magic that is going to make all of this happen. Speed is the critical piece of this entire process, we have to figure out how to move faster in this area. We have to put together small teams that are integrated at a broad strategic level; that we move quickly with,” he emphasized. “We’ll develop products, if they work – we’ll use them quickly. If they don’t work – we’ll throw them away and move on.” He also touched on the importance of data, “We have to look at data from a new perspective – call it data discovery.”

“Our allies and partners have to be with us every step of the way,” he concluded.

The Honorable Mr. Dana Deasy, Chief Information Officer of the Department of Defense

On September 10, DoD’s CIO, HON Dana Deasy, opened the second day of the 2020 DoD AI Symposium delivering a keynote on “How the Digital Modernization Strategy is Key for Scaling Artificial Intelligence.” Mr. Deasy opened by framing our collective objective as “harnessing AI to advance our security and prosperity.” He described the Digital Modernization Strategy as “the engine of the National Defense Strategy. The Digital Modernization Strategy provides the framework to harness the full potential of AI to transform our military for the challenges it will face in the 21st century and beyond.”

Mr. Deasy also reflected on how far the JAIC has come since its establishment over two years ago, “the JAIC is the cornerstone of the Department’s efforts to adopt and scale AI, and is dedicated to scaling AI across the entire DoD enterprise.” He also highlighted the successes of JAIC’s mission initiatives and Joint Common Foundation, including their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Project Salus, which he noted, “went from concept to code in a matter of weeks.” Mr. Deasy emphasized the criticality of this work to the attendees, “You can have a thousand and one little blossoms of AI, but if these capabilities are not scaled, they won’t be effective in achieving the DoD’s objectives and strategic imperative for AI.”

He also acknowledged the integral work that the JAIC is doing around AI ethics and international engagement, including the establishment of the Responsible AI Committee and Partnership for Defense, “AI ethics is a foundational element of everything we do with AI delivery…the way we win matters. The Partnership for Defense will bring together 10 nations for an international dialogue to discuss the responsible use of AI for their respective militaries.”

Mr. Deasy also discussed the absolute necessity of the entire DoD AI ecosystem working together towards a common goal: “The success of fielding AI capabilities extends far beyond the JAIC, organizations like DARPA and OUSD R&E on the front end of the AI development cycle provide an important symbiotic relationship with the JAIC and AI developers on the tactical edge…we simply cannot achieve success without working together.”

Like General Hyten the day before, Mr. Deasy also drove home the importance of the DoD’s industry and academic partnerships, “It is important that we broaden our coalition to include the private sector and academia. We have turned the corner toward a new era of cooperation between the DoD and American tech. Private industry partners are the linchpin for transforming the DoD through AI.”

To close, he quoted Alan Turing, “We can only see a short distance ahead but we can see plenty that needs to be done.” Mr. Deasy continued, “We know there’s much work to be done, but you are all making history with your hard work, drive, and dedication to getting us there. Together, we will solve one of the most impactful national security challenges of our time in bringing AI to the DoD at speed and at scale.”