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DOD CIO Remarks at DOD Artificial Intelligence Symposium and Exposition

Greetings Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m Dana Deasy, the Chief Information Officer for the Department of Defense. It’s my distinct pleasure to be with you this morning to kick off day two of the inaugural Department of Defense AI Symposium. Yesterday you heard from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Hyten, about the important role that artificial intelligence will play in transforming the Department of Defense for the digital era. Secretary Esper, General Hyten and thought leaders in the National Security community have emphasized that artificial intelligence will change the character of military operations – meaning how we fight and the technological innovations that our warfighters will use to prevail on tomorrow’s battlefields.

The Department of Defense is undergoing an important transformational period in our history by taking the conceptual applications of artificial intelligence and harnessing this emerging technology to advance our security and prosperity. The Department’s vision for artificial intelligence is guided by the National Defense Strategy, which describes “an increasingly complex security environment with technological challenges from adversaries in every domain.” This evolving security landscape has serious implications for America’s national security. This is why Secretary Esper and DoD leadership have made it a strategic imperative to accelerate artificial intelligence and deliver tangible solutions for the warfighter to preserve our nation’s strategic military advantage.

When I assumed the duties as the Chief Information Officer over two years ago, I knew the Department needed a much broader and bolder digital modernization strategy that could serve as the engine of the National Defense Strategy. The DoD Digital Modernization Strategy provides a framework to harness the full potential of artificial intelligence to transform our military for the challenges it will face in the 21st century and beyond.

The Digital Modernization Strategy ties together the technological capabilities of cloud, data, artificial intelligence, command and control, and cybersecurity into a common ecosystem. These capabilities are closely interconnected and each enables the other in very important ways. In other words, we cannot deliver AI at scale without cloud, cyber, and a strategic approach to how we manage and utilize the Department’s vast data resources. This is why artificial intelligence has to fit into the broader digital modernization ecosystem to effectively deliver at scale and with speed to meet the strategic imperative laid out by Secretary Esper and the National Defense Strategy.

So how do we deliver on this strategic imperative of fielding Artificial Intelligence? A key component of our strategy is the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, or JAIC.  The JAIC is the cornerstone of the Department’s efforts to adopt and scale artificial intelligence. Yet shaping the JAIC organization that exists today required strategic vision, creativity, and innovation. There was no “how to” manual for standing up an AI fielding organization in the Department of Defense.

The evolution of the JAIC is a journey that is still in the making and we are generating positive momentum from our early days as AI pioneers toward a mature organization of AI practitioners.    

So let’s take a few moments to reflect back on how far we’ve come in the development of the JAIC organization. Like many ideas and concepts in the Department, the establishment of the JAIC began with a memo signed by then Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan who directed us to establish an “AI start-up organization” dedicated to fielding artificial intelligence capabilities in the near-term – or as some like to call it – an “AI now” organization. We knew the Department needed a common foundation to share tools and data and we knew we needed to identify national mission initiatives to develop AI applications across a broad and diverse set of organizational and military requirements. Most importantly, we knew that we needed an organization that was dedicated to scaling artificial intelligence across a vast and geographically dispersed DoD enterprise of military services and combatant commands. You see where I’m going with this. This is really about bringing the Department together and providing a framework to deliver enterprise level solutions for Artificial Intelligence. You can have 1001 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 artificial intelligence. The establishment of the JAIC helped us get at this scaling challenge. We had a vision of what we wanted the JAIC to look like and how we wanted it to operate. What we didn’t have back then was staff, a budget, and a place for people to work.

Now fast-forward two years to the present and we have an organization that is starting to deliver real AI solutions for the warfighter while leading the Department in AI ethics and governance. The JAIC is staffed with more than 200 talented military, civil-service, and government contractors who are passionate about fielding artificial intelligence and working with a great sense of urgency to make AI real and tangible for the warfighter. This diverse team is made up of some of the best and brightest technical minds that we recruited from private industry, the federal government, and academia to join forces with our uniformed military personnel who represent every service to include the National Guard and the Coast Guard. The JAIC ‘s budget went from 89 million dollars in Fiscal Year 19 to 268 million dollars in Fiscal Year 20 and we plan to spend more than 1.6 billion dollars over the next few years thanks to strong bipartisan support from Congress and DoD leadership.  

And the JAIC is already generating early returns on investment in its mission initiatives, ranging from predictive maintenance to business process transformation. The JAIC recently delivered an innovative “engine health model” predictive maintenance capability that is being utilized by Black Hawk helicopter maintainers from the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Aviation Regiment. 

Under Business Process Transformation, the JAIC is delivering language-processing AI applications to the Washington Headquarters Service and the DoD’s administrative and financial management teams.  These capabilities are automating the review of thousands of documents and memos for consistency, accuracy, and compliance, thus increasing speed and efficiency while reducing manual, laborious processes.  

And to tackle the Department’s scaling challenge, the JAIC is laying the groundwork for the Joint Common Foundation, an AI development environment that will broaden opportunities for AI developers across the Department to build and deliver AI capabilities in a secure DevSecOps infrastructure.

These early projects are providing valuable lessons learned as the JAIC places more focus on the tactical edge to develop AI solutions in support of Joint Warfighting Operations. Our initial focus is creating decision support tools for front-line commanders that will be critical in an evolving operational environment where speed, precision, and agility are paramount for success. To these ends, the JAIC is developing an “operations cognitive assistant” capability that enhances human-machine teaming to drive faster and more efficient decision-making, through AI-enabled predictive analytics. Our goal is to nest these capabilities under the Joint All-Domain Command and Control concept, or JADC2, to provide a more cohesive and synchronized operational framework for the Joint Force.

While we develop and deliver these important near-term projects, we have to be ready for the contingencies of a changing and unpredictable operating environment.  This is why I believe the true long-term success of the JAIC will depend on how the organization adapts and delivers real-world solutions when the strategic landscape and priorities change. 

A perfect example of this is the “Project Sal-us” initiative, an AI project named appropriately after the Roman goddess of health and well-being, that delivered rapid and impactful results during the recent Federal COVID-19 response. Working alongside a team of private industry partners, the JAIC developed a predictive-logistics AI-dashboard platform for the U.S. Northern Command that enabled National Guard teams to assist states and municipalities with mitigating panic buying and managing supply chains. That project went from concept to code in a matter of weeks.  More importantly, it demonstrated the JAIC’s ability to support the emergent needs of a combatant commander and deliver real AI solutions during a national emergency. 

And while delivering AI is the essence of the JAIC organization, it’s not all the organization is doing for the DoD.  There were a lot of things we could have focused on when we stood up the JAIC – yet we purposely placed an early emphasis on AI ethics because we knew it would be a foundational element for all that we do with AI delivery. Our objective is to field AI and help our nation prevail on tomorrow’s battlefield…yet the way we win matters!  This is precisely why the JAIC policy team is leading a far-reaching initiative that brings together thought leaders from across the Department through the Responsible AI Subcommittee to develop and standardize procedures for implementing the AI ethical principles that were adopted by Secretary Esper earlier this year.   

Our efforts with implementing AI ethical principles have gained the attention of our international partners. Accordingly, the JAIC’s international engagement team is leading a robust and ongoing dialogue with allies from NATO, the European Union, and the Indo-Pacific about how we can shape our security cooperation and defense partnerships for the digital era to include discussions on AI ethics. To this end, next week the JAIC will facilitate the first ever “Partnership for Defense” international dialogue that will bring together more than 10 nations to discuss the responsible use of AI for their respective militaries.

 The JAIC is also capitalizing on partnerships at home.  Just last month, the JAIC began a partnership with the Department of Energy to support the “First Five Consortium” that is leveraging the innovation of private industry, academia, and the interagency to develop AI solutions for humanitarian disaster response.

These are all very exciting advances for the JAIC organization and demonstrate how far we’ve come in the last two years in making AI real. Yet we realize from this vast audience and AI ecosystem listening today that the success of fielding AI capabilities extends far beyond the JAIC. There is important work going at organizations such as DARPA, the Defense Innovation Unit, the Defense Digital Services, and our partners in R&E. These organizations on the front end of the AI development cycle provide an important symbiotic relationship for the JAIC and AI developers on the tactical edge. If we are to deliver on our important mandate of adopting and scaling artificial intelligence across the U.S. military, we will need to come together as a cohesive and complimentary AI ecosystem.

We simply cannot achieve success without working together. And it will be extremely important that we broaden our coalition to include the private sector and academia.

The Department wants to create leverage by harnessing the innovation and expertise of the American tech industry. The government is fairly good at creating policy and frameworks to achieve mission outcomes. However, we cannot scale artificial intelligence without the technical expertise and resources that the private sector provides. Over the past year, we’ve been conducting industry outreach with the nation’s leading tech companies - large, small, traditional, and non-traditional companies - who have expressed interest in working with the JAIC and the DoD to field AI capabilities. This shows not only the interest, but also the momentum we are creating with the support of our private sector partners. As a result of our ongoing outreach with the American tech industry, the JAIC is now working with more than 120 companies serving as prime and sub-prime vendors for its AI projects.

With the many tech firms represented here today and those contracted to develop AI projects for the DoD, I truly believe we have turned the corner for a new era of cooperation between the DoD and American tech. To those in the audience representing the private sector, we appreciate the contributions that you are making to national security. Make no mistake; you are the lynchpin for success in transforming the DoD through AI.

 Our esteemed colleagues in academia also have an important role. You are the thought leaders who will help keep the Department navigating our technological journey in the right direction. There are some critics who suggest that China is the intellectual and technical leader in the AI space. Those critics underestimate the talent and innovative spirit of our nation’s private sector and academic institutions. No one can match the intellectual power of American academia and tech in the field of artificial intelligence. This is one of the reasons I’m confident the United States will continue to lead in artificial intelligence for many years to come.     

And with American leadership, I also feel confident about the future of our alliances and partnerships that I spoke about earlier. For our international partners in the audience today, we look forward to working with you to shape the future of Defense cooperation. Interoperability is paramount for allies and partners - and we want to ensure our militaries can operate efficiently together as we embrace the technological transformations that will shape our future force.  

 So all of these exciting developments beg the question – where do we go from here to capitalize on this initial success? As General Hyten mentioned yesterday, we have to be “nimble and quick” as we adopt and scale AI.  To hasten AI adoption, there’s simply no substitute for rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on these hard problems. For those of you attending today’s breakout sessions, this is your opportunity to take AI to the next level for the Department of Defense. 

The great Alan Turing once said; “we can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty that needs to be done.” We know there’s much work to be done. But you all are making history with your hard work, drive, and dedication to get us there. Together, we will solve one of the most impactful national security challenges of our time in bringing AI to the Department of Defense at speed and at scale. Thank you for your time today - and let’s go make AI real!