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News   Defense News

Where it Counts, U.S. Leads in Artificial Intelligence

July 9, 2020 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News
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When it comes to advancements in artificial intelligence technology, China does have a lead in some places — like spying on its own people and using facial recognition technology to identify political dissenters. But those are areas where the U.S. simply isn't pointing its investments in artificial intelligence, said director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. Where it counts, the U.S. leads, he said.

"While it is true that the United States faces formidable technological competitors and challenging strategic environments, the reality is that the United States continues to lead in AI and its most important military applications," said Nand Mulchandani, during a briefing at the Pentagon.

A man sits in front of a microphone. Behind him is a sign on the wall that says The Pentagon.
Nand Mulchandani
Acting director of the Department of Defense Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Nand Mulchandani, briefs reporters about the DOD's recent initiatives with artificial intelligence at the Pentagon, Washington, July 8, 2020.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 200708-D-BN624-0029

The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, which stood up in 2018, serves as the official focal point of the department's AI strategy.

China leads in some places, Mulchandani said. "China's military and police authorities undeniably have the world's most advanced capabilities, such as unregulated facial recognition for universal surveillance and control of their domestic population, trained on Chinese video gathered from their systems, and Chinese language text analysis for internet and media censorship."

The U.S. is capable of doing similar things, he said, but doesn't. It's against the law, and it's not in line with American values.

"Our constitution and privacy laws protect the rights of U.S. citizens, and how their data is collected and used," he said. "Therefore, we simply don't invest in building such universal surveillance and censorship systems."

The department does invest in systems that both enhance warfighter capability, for instance, and also help the military protect and serve the United States, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several service members wearing face masks check the contents of a case  of canned goods.
Food Bank
Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, visits the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank where Louisiana National Guard soldiers are preparing food boxes for distribution in the local area during the COVID-19 response in Baton Rouge, La., April 23, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Sgt. Toby Valadie, Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200423-Z-VU198-1118

The Project Salus effort, for instance, which began in March of this year, puts artificial intelligence to work helping to predict shortages for things like water, medicine and supplies used in the COVID fight, said Mulchandani.

"This product was developed in direct work with [U.S. Northern Command] and the National Guard," he said. "They have obviously a very unique role to play in ensuring that resource shortages ... are harmonized across an area that's dealing with the disaster."

Mulchandani said what the Guard didn't have was predictive analytics on where such shortages might occur, or real-time analytics for supply and demand. Project Salus — named for the Roman goddess of safety and well-being — fills that role.

"We [now have] roughly about 40 to 50 different data streams coming into project Salus at the data platform layer," he said. "We have another 40 to 45 different AI models that are all running on top of the platform that allow for ... the Northcom operations team ... to actually get predictive analytics on where shortages and things will occur."

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Command and Control
Marines participate in a command and control exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., May 7, 2017.
Photo By: Marine Lance Cpl. Becky Cleveland Corps
VIRIN: 170506-M-XO599-133C

As an AI-enabled tool, he said, Project Salus can be used to predict traffic bottlenecks, hotel vacancies and the best military bases to stockpile food during the fallout from a damaging weather event.

As the department pursues joint all-domain command and control, or JADC2, the JAIC is working to build in the needed AI capabilities, Mulchandani.

"JADC2 is ... a collection of platforms that get stitched together and woven together[ effectively into] a platform," Mulchandani said. "The JAIC is spending a lot of time and resources focused on building the AI components on top of JADC2. So if you can imagine a command and control system that is current and the way it's configured today, our job and role is to actually build out the AI components both from a data, AI modeling and then training perspective and then deploying those."

When it comes to AI and weapons, Mulchandani said the department and JAIC are involved there too.

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Special Forces
An Army special forces soldier from Combined Special Operations Task Force 10 serving in Eastern Afghanistan provides command and control support and assistance while mentoring a provincial response company of the Afghan National Security Forces, in February 2012.
Photo By: Army Maj. Joel Anderson
VIRIN: 120224-A-ZZ999-001C

"We do have projects going on under joint warfighting, which are  actually going into testing," he said. "They're very tactical-edge AI, is the way I describe it. And that work is going to be tested. It's very promising work. We're very excited about it."

While Mulchandani didn't mention specific projects, he did say that while much of the JAIC's AI work will go into weapons systems, none of those right now are going to be autonomous weapons systems. The concepts of a human-in-the-loop and full human control of weapons, he said, "are still absolutely valid."