There are many ideas that science fiction has inspired, but few have the possible impact and influence that artificial intelligence has. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has two definitions from Merriam-Webster: 1. A branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers, and the more important definition; 2. The capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. Often, we think of pop culture phenomenon such as Terminator when thinking about AI, but the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, believes AI will be of critical importance in the future and has every intention of staying in the lead in terms of AI research and development.
DARPA has been the leading global pioneer in Artificial Intelligence for the past five decades. It was DARPA’s investments that began the “first wave” (rule-based) of artificial intelligence, followed by a “second wave” (statistical-learning-based) AI technologies. In more recent advances, the agency has pushed the boundaries of machine learning algorithms (the ability of the machine to change its behavior based on past events and actions) and hardware (which is needed to hold all the data and allow the machine to act on it). Both of these advances are imperative for further growth in Artificial Intelligence.
In their interest in developing a “third wave” of applications and theories that “make it possible for machines to contextually adapt to changing situations,” DARPA has began the Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) program. This program creates a streamlined process to advance short-term research and development projects. Generally a project can take years to even begin but under the AIE these “Opportunities”, the name of the type of contract provided under the program, will have a start date within three months of an announcement. Researchers will then have to establish their new AI concepts and determine its feasibility with an 18-month period of the award being given out. From there the team can decide whether the current project can lead to breakthroughs and development should be maintained or if it will be a dead end and the project should be shelved in favor of something more useful.
The AIE is based on the “Disruptioneering” process that provides smaller budgets, with the award going out in less than three months from solicitation and a “downstream target of fewer than 75 days”. While this process may be great for DARPA and possible partners, there’s a bigger context: the race with China. Due to the amount of red tape and resulting slow movement in the US government it can take a very long time for projects to start, let alone go anywhere. Autocratic nations, namely China, do not have those limitations, which means it is easier for them to begin development and advance a project than it is here. The Disruptioneering process makes it much quicker for DARPA to get projects rolling, which will be vital to maintaining America’s dominance on AI.
DARPA’s AIE isn’t the only program going on in regards to AI. DARPA is also looking at ways it can protect its machine learning tools from manipulation from outside forces, with an increasingly pessimistic view that offensive capabilities against AI and machine learning will outrun defensive capabilities. Outside of DARPA, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence has been established, with commissioners being appointed on a bipartisan basis and the goal of “advising government on the national security implications of artificial intelligence”, coupled with how to stay on top of its increasingly competitive market. The Commission has members ranging from private companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google, to research organizations like the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, to academic institutes like Dakota State University.
This all paints a big picture of a US National Security sector that is focused and committed to developing Artificial Intelligence as much as it can and ensuring the US and its forces stay at the forefront of this innovative technology. This will be critical in keeping US armed forces updated and shows a healthy trend for the sector – an interest in improving capabilities and advancement, rather than being satisfied with the status quo and not adapting the latest advances in technology for our benefit. This interest and ability to accept new technologies and utilize them in an efficient and effective way will be critical in a world that is growing more digital and technologically reliant by the day.