Top Pentagon technology officials told a House armed services panel Tuesday the department’s new artificial intelligence center is open and focused on scaling up current commercial  and military capabilities needed to spur big data projects and match increasingly massive AI investments from peer competitors.

Lawmakers on the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee pressed Dana Deasy, the DoD CIO, and Lisa Porter, deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, on the new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center’s (JAIC) capacity to deliver AI capabilities for near-term operational use.pentagon_defensewatch

“The transformation and prioritization of AI inside the department today will shape the efficiency of DoD’s business functions and, most importantly, the effectiveness of our forces in future battle,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the subcommittee chair, said in her opening remarks.

The Pentagon has previously offered scant details on the scope of JAIC’s mission outside of potential use cases for humanitarian missions (Defense Daily, Oct. 24), and allowing private sector input on potential capability opportunities during a November industry day.

Deasy clarified the new center’s focus during Tuesday’s hearing, offering that JAIC will be centered around capability pathways called National Mission Initiatives while also offering data and computing services for Component Mission Initiatives.

“JAIC’s early projects serve a dual purpose, to deliver new capabilities to end-users as well as to incrementally develop the common foundation that is essential for scaling AI’s impact across the DoD,” Deasy said. “This means shared data, reusable tools, libraries, standards and AI cloud to help jumpstart new projects.”

DoD officials are aiming for the services to use JAIC as a means to identifying AI use cases and speeding up the process of training algorithms developed by DARPA or industry partners.

“JAIC is collaborating with teams across DoD to systematically identify, prioritize and select mission needs, and then rapidly execute a sequence of cross-functional use cases to demonstrate value and spur momentum,” Deasy said.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), the subcommittee ranking member, said lawmakers held an industry roundtable in June and left sensing the department was behind in leveraging commercial capabilities to support DoD AI efforts.

“During the roundtable discussions, I expressed serious concerns about what I perceived as a disjointed, ad-hoc approach by DoD in developing department-wide AI policy, strategies and programs,” said Langevin, who noted he has sensed a refocused DoD effort with the establishment of JAIC.

Porter told lawmakers DoD is leveraging JAIC to assist  with addressing lingering issues, including reducing time needed to train algorithms on big data, making machine learning systems more trustworthy, and reducing risk of spoofing threats or “adversarial AI.”

“The JAIC will offer the means to rapidly determine the appropriate metrics for operational impact for a variety of applications, as well as the operational performance limitations of current tools. These insights will help inform algorithmic and system development across multiple USD R&E efforts,” Porter said.

Stefanik told the witnesses she views China’s comprehensive “whole-of-society” approach to AI as a continued threat to the U.S. competitive advantage.

Contrary to senior leaders across the services, Porter said the U.S. remains ahead in the AI arms race despite increasing investment from peer competitors, adding that a larger effort will be required to keep the technological edge.

“Right now we are actually ahead. However, we are in danger of losing that leadership position,” Porter said. “We anticipate a focus on developing AI systems that have the ability to reason as humans do, at least to some extent. Such a capability would greatly amplify the utility of AI, enabling AI systems to become true partners with their human counterparts in problem solving.”