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DOD Partners With Agencies to Use AI for Disaster, Humanitarian Relief

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The Defense Department is partnering with other agencies to develop deep-learning artificial intelligence algorithms to provide near-real-time data to improve the decision-making of first responders engaged in natural disasters and humanitarian assistance efforts.

Representatives from DOD and its partners — the Energy Department and Microsoft — along with a White House official, spoke yesterday during a virtual meeting.

A truck rolls through a flooded street.
Flooded Road
A truck assigned to the 878th Engineer Vertical Construction Company, 105th Engineer Battalion, rolls through a flooded road on the way to assist stranded civilians on Oak Island, N.C., during Hurricane Isaias, Aug. 5, 2020.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Lisa Vines, North Carolina Army National Guard
VIRIN: 200805-Z-EH515-1020C

Michael J. Kratsios, DOD's chief technology officer, said five consortiums have been launched to accomplish this goal, using the best AI technology talent from industry to respond to humanitarian assistance and to mitigate natural disasters by protecting property and lives, including those of first responders.

Cheryl Ingstad, director of the Energy Department's AI and technology office, said one of the most important aspects of this work is understanding first responders' needs and developing AI in such a way that they can easily understand and use it. She said she's confident the work will save lives and that additional partners may be added to the effort. 

An airman works amid an array of computer monitors.
Intelligence Analyst
An Air National Guard intelligence analyst assigned to the 181st Intelligence Wing’s 137th Intelligence Squadron unclassified processing, assessment and dissemination site assists in new developmental programs at Hulman Field Indiana National Guard Base, Ind., Nov. 2, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. L. Roland Sturm, Indiana Air National Guard
VIRIN: 191102-Z-II995-1001C
A sailor and two other men work with artificial intelligence devices.
Naval Research
Navy Rear Adm. David Hahn, chief of naval research, tours the National Robotics Engineering Center during a visit to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Aug. 3, 2018. Hahn was at CMU to attend the Artificial Intelligence & Autonomy for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief workshop, co-hosted by the Office of Naval Research and CMU. The workshop brings together a community of academia, industry and government stakeholders with a diverse pool of first responders to accelerate the experimentation, fielding, and scaling of new AI and autonomous capabilities in support of the HADR mission.
Photo By: John F. Williams, Navy
VIRIN: 180803-N-PO203-0096C

Nand Mulchandani, acting director of the Defense Department's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said DOD is working on this collaborative project because the department devotes significant time and manpower to responding to disasters and humanitarian assistance relief operations, and this work can contribute to that effort in a big way.

Research and development, he said, has been progressing for about a year, and it has progressed from being a concept to become something that can be used. "Software has unique and powerful properties," he said. "If you build it well with the right customer focus and architecture, the more you build, the cheaper it gets."

Susie Adams, Microsoft's chief federal technology officer, said the work not only will help first responders in the United States, but also will be shared with global partners.

Firefighters fight fire.
Fire Fight
Soldiers and airmen from the Oregon National Guard create a fire line during wildland firefighter training at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training in Salem, Ore., July 16, 2020.
Photo By: Army Sgt. 1st Class Amy Elker
VIRIN: 200716-A-UF867-003C

"AI and machine learning enable solutions never thought possible," she said. "AI is a tool to augment human intelligence, not replace it. It's about getting data to the right people at the right time as quickly as possible so they can make better-informed decisions."

Adams noted that Microsoft has been working on AI for about 25 years and now has 1,000 researchers engaged in AI work.

Chris Liddell, White House deputy chief of staff, said the administration is excited about government and private partners using AI to save lives and fully supports the effort. 

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