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Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks on "AI in the Era of Strategic Competition" at the University of South Florida/CENTCOM/CDAO Global and National Security Institute Summit (As Delivered)

Hello everyone, and good morning Tampa.

This week — as you collaborate across academia, government, and industry — you're carrying on a legacy that goes back over 60 years, when the Defense Department seeded the first AI research hubs at universities across the country.

A legacy that linked the post-war, post-Cold War, and post-9/11 eras — as DoD invested and fielded early data and AI-enabled systems, from air defense networks to logistics planning tools.

Of course, increasingly over the last dozen years or so, advances in machine learning have brought new breakthroughs in AI… much of it, outside government. So our task in DoD is to adopt the innovations wherever they add the most military value.

That's why, at an accelerated pace over the last three years, we've been moving rapidly and responsibly — iterating and investing to deliver a more modernized, data-driven, and AI-empowered military now, to make our decision advantage even better than it already is.

After all, DoD's mission is to deter, defend, and defeat aggression against America, our allies, and our interests… and AI-enabled systems can greatly improve the speed, quality, and accuracy of commanders' decisions — which can be decisive in deterring a fight, and winning a fight.

That's imperative given the pacing challenge we face from the People's Republic of China, which is today America's most consequential strategic competitor. It's the only nation with the will and increasingly the wherewithal to remake the international order that has provided so much benefit to so many for so long.

And with AI, the United States and the PRC take different approaches. Ours reflects our ethics and democratic values.

For instance, even as we're swiftly and safely embedding AI into many aspects of our mission — from battlespace awareness, cyber, and reconnaissance, to logistics, force support, and other back-office functions — we do so mindful of AI's potential dangers, which we're determined to avoid. That's why we always have a human responsible for the use of force.

We also don't use data and AI to censor, repress, or disempower people — just as we don't seek to control innovation or make it toe the party line.

Instead, we enjoy a vibrant innovation ecosystem that's second-to-none precisely because it's powered by a free and open society, committed to responsible-use values and ideals.

That's a big reason why we have so many capable allies and partners worldwide — including many represented at this summit. It's also why world-class technologists and companies — also many at this summit — want to work more with us: because they share our values.

In this era of strategic competition with the PRC, the advantage will always go to the country that uses AI and associated technologies better, faster, smarter, and safer.

Today, that's Team USA. We have better chips, better talent, better schools, better tech, better allies, and values that guide how we use data and AI. And we intend to stay in the lead.

We also have better data, which is foundational in the AI hierarchy of needs.

The quality data powering DoD's applications of AI comes from decades of real-world, modern military operations, and years in active war zones.  

Our data also leverages abundant, resilient sensors and data-transmission networks across domains, from seabeds to outer space.

And it's made even stronger through data-sharing mechanisms with allies and partners… including democracies who are standing up to authoritarian neighbors as we speak.

Together, we're continually improving and expanding these mechanisms…

…like in the Indo-Pacific, where the U.S., Japan, and South Korea now share early-warning missile launch data — trilaterally, and in real time. 

Of course, our lead in data and AI goes beyond our superior teammates and technological capabilities. It also comes from who we have building them, who we have using them, and how we do so. In these arenas, America will always be unbeatable.

Never get complacent, though. Technology will always change. Our competitors will always be dynamic and try to leap ahead by stealing technology and intellectual property. So we must always keep learning, iterating, growing, and pushing ourselves.

Today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future, we are in a persistent, generational competition for advantage with the PRC. It's all-hands-on-deck, because our lead is never guaranteed. We have to earn it constantly.

That means we need you: students, scholars, scientists, engineers, operators, analysts, allies, and more.

So this week, as you hear from leaders and experts across sectors, consider how your expertise can help make a difference. Because it could end up making all the difference.

We've got many ways for you to contribute. And if you do, America, and the world, will be better for it.

Thank you.