In October 2016, the newly formed Defense Innovation Board released its first set of recommendations. (The board, an advisory body to senior leadership in the US Defense Department, contains representatives from the private sector, academia, and nonprofits.) One recommendation that stood out was the establishment of “a centralized, focused, well-resourced organization” within the Defense Department “to propel applied research in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.” Less than two years later, the Pentagon is already transforming this idea into reality.

On June 27, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan issued a memorandum that formally established the Defense Department’s new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC). According to the memo, JAIC’s overarching aim is to accelerate the delivery of AI-enabled capabilities, scale the impact of AI tools, and synchronize the department’s AI efforts.

To this end, JAIC will guide the execution of so-called National Mission Initiatives—large-scale AI projects “designed to address groups of urgent, related challenges.” Moreover, the National Mission Initiatives—as well as the Defense Department’s adoption of cloud technologies—will be leveraged to enable rapid delivery of AI-enabled capabilities across the department. JAIC will also serve as a platform to improve collaboration on AI-related projects with internal as well as external parties, including private companies and academics.

It is notable that JAIC’s focus will also include ethics, humanitarian considerations, and both short- and long-term AI safety. These issues—according to Brendan McCord, head of machine learning at the Pentagon entity known as Defense Innovation Unit Experimental—will be reflected in the establishment of AI defense principles that will be developed with input from multiple stakeholders.

This specific dimension of JAIC, though its parameters remain abstract for now, could play an important role in realizing the Pentagon’s AI ambitions. Developing, institutionalizing, and communicating AI defense principles transparently could not only reduce the operational risks of AI-enabled systems but also increase US national security by enabling the Pentagon to better access and integrate AI innovation resources in the United States. Read more from…

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