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Dana Deasy, DOD Chief Information Officer,​ and Lisa Porter, deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, testify before the House Armed Services emerging threats and capabilities panel on Dec. 11, on the department's efforts to understand and field artificial intelligence. HASC video screenshots.

The United States is “in danger of losing [its] leadership position” in artificial intelligence to China, said Lisa Porter, deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, in House testimony on Tuesday.

The National Defense Strategy predicts AI will change the nature of war, prompting the Defense Department in June to launch a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Agency (JAIC, pronounced Jake), which only recently became operational. Headed by Dana Deasy, the Defense Department’s new Chief Information Officer, JAIC is charged with focusing DOD’s numerous AI projects and accelerating their deployment to the operational force.

Testifying alongside Porter before the House Armed Services emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee on Tuesday, Deasy said the agency’s projects will fall into two categories:

  • National mission initiatives. For example, DOD might employ AI and machine learning during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, applying lessons learned from Project Maven to natural disasters, such as hurricanes and wildfires. A JAIC team partnered with disaster response teams during Hurricane Florence to develop an AI-enabled prototype for personnel recovery and unmanned infrastructure assessment, FedScoop reported in October. Deasy told legislators the goal is to “save lives and livelihoods,” but few details have been released on the prototype and Deasy did not elaborate.

  • Component mission initiatives look to bring scale to the impact of AI across DOD. It can include things such as shared data, reusable tools, or AI cloud technology, he said.

To date, JAIC has a staff of 30—a mix of DOD civilians and military personnel from across the services—and Deasy said he is actively recruiting talented AI experts.

“We need to attract world-class talent,” he said.

Porter said she is working closely with Deasy’s office and the Defense Information Unit to ensure that advances in research, both from the military and commercial sector, can quickly be tested in the field.

She said DARPA’s recently announced AI Next initiative will invest $2 billion over the next five years, with a key “thrust” being to get “things out there rapidly.”

Porter also said DARPA researchers are working hard to understand the flip side of AI: adversarial operations. Defending AI is its own special area of study.

“If we’re going to trust this and apply it to things that are high stakes, like military operations, we have to do much better at understanding how people can spoof our systems,” Porter said. “There’s a lot of work to be done there.”