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If DOD Wants AI In Its Future, It Must Start Now, Official Says

March 23, 2021 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

Now is the time for decision makers, commanders and policymakers within the Defense Department to get on board with fully implementing artificial intelligence, the director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center said.

A man in a military uniform stands in front of a laptop computer.
Lt. Gen. Michael Groen
Joint Artificial Intelligence Center director U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael Groen speaks to subject matter experts during the National Defense Industrial Association’s National Security AI Conference, from the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 23, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 210323-D-XI929-1002

Right now, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, AI is being used in many places across the department — but not at scale.

"I think you know you can see 1,000 flowers blooming across the Department of Defense and that's really powerful — it's a step in the right direction," he said, speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association. "But we need to start building on it. This is a truism that I think bears repeating again and again: If we want artificial intelligence to be our future, then we have to start building it in the present."

Accomplishing that will mean a lot of change and work within the department, he said.

"We have to do this comprehensively," he said. "Transformation has to be wholesale if it's going to be effective. The magic really starts happening when you connect automated processes. So if you have a data-driven process and it can drive another data-driven process — now you're starting to execute at scale."

Silhouetted people stand near each other.  A computer-generated face is superimposed over them.
Artificial Intelligence
The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the Defense Innovation Unit hope to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help the Army reduce the amount of time it takes to correct financial errors.
Photo By: U.S. Army
VIRIN: 201005-A-ZZ999-001X

Groen said the entire warfighting enterprise must be modernized to accommodate full integration of AI.

"We have to think about enterprise effects, decision tools that derive from massive data flows and integrated infrastructure that allows any sensor to inform any decision maker or any sensor to inform any system," he said.

It's not just warfighting that has to evolve — the systems that support the warfighting effort must as well, he said.

"[When] you think about the Department of Defense, there's the warfighting end of the Department of Defense, but there's the large gears that turn underneath the department that make warfighting possible and make warfighting successful," he said, citing agencies like the Defense Health Agency, the Defense Logistics Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

A computer-generated face is rendered in blue lines.
Artificial Intelligence
The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the Defense Innovation Unit hope to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help the Army reduce the amount of time it takes to correct financial errors.
Photo By: Courtney Maxson, Army
VIRIN: 201005-A-ZZ999-002X

"Think about all of these activities that occur that are really the gears that the department rides on for effective warfighting," he said. "These enterprises are sitting on massive amounts of data. It's a natural target for AI implementation to create more efficiencies and economies and effectiveness in those large scale enterprises."

Modernizing business processes within the department is also important, he said, in part to help the department become more compliant with auditability requirements.

"The department has historically been challenged from an audibility perspective, being able to account for where all of our dollars are ... it's a natural playground or natural implementation ground for artificial intelligence right in our business practices," he said.

A graphic depicting a human hand touching a computer-generated image of a hand.
Artificial Intelligence
The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the Defense Innovation Unit hope to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help the Army reduce the amount of time it takes to correct financial errors.
Photo By: Courtney Maxson, Army
VIRIN: 201005-A-ZZ999-003

The JAIC, he said, is aiming to help the Defense Department achieve the efficiency and effectiveness seen in commercial enterprise.

"We believe that's possible, and we think that's necessary," he said.

Achieving national security objectives with AI can't be accomplished by the DOD alone, Goren said. Industry must be a part of that, he said.

"I don't want you to underestimate the key role that you play in underpinning national security," he said. "Your participation in this dialogue, and your participation in this transformation, is going to be absolutely critical."