- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2018

The growing race for military superiority between Washington and Beijing is entering a new phase, with both world powers preparing to square off in the cutting-edge realm of artificial intelligence.

A cadre of tech gurus at the Defense Department and in the intelligence community are working to develop an interagency center designed to position the United States as the dominant force in the emerging technology subsector.

Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s chief of research and engineering, has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill and in national security circles in Washington to extol the necessity and opportunity posed by the organization, dubbed the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

Artificial intelligence technologies, which leverage various binary computations and algorithms to replicate human decision-making and risk assessments, has revolutionized the commercial and defense sectors.

On the military side, automation fueled by artificial intelligence has assisted the U.S. and allied forces in areas such as combat logistics, resupply and analysis of raw intelligence collected by the Pentagon, the CIA and other agencies.

Those advantages will be key not just for U.S. forces but for their international allies as well.

“Everything that will be required in terms of intelligence — artificial intelligence, the changes that it will bring about, ability to attract talents. And we will have to work to make sure that it is still possible because we know how to defend this peace that we cherish together,” French President Emmanuel Macron said last week in a speech at the State Department.

Mr. Macron was in Washington for a three-say state visit, the first foreign leader honored with that distinction in the Trump administration.

The Pentagon’s Project Maven — an effort to use artificial intelligence to scan through the hours of aerial footage gathered by American surveillance drones to identify potential targets — is one example of the untapped potential of artificial intelligence.

“These technology areas are not just important to the Department of Defense. They are, in fact, the focus of global industry, something we must learn to leverage,” Mr. Griffin told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee this month.

But that learning curve has been fraught with challenges, the Pentagon official told lawmakers. The department’s massive bureaucracy and a commercial sector that is wary of cooperating with Washington to develop technologies for the intelligence and defense communities have hastened the Pentagon’s efforts to compete with near-peer adversaries, such as China, in the realm of AI.

“The [Defense] Department is not short of innovators; we’re short of time, and we lack in expertise in adapting commercial market advances to military needs,” Mr. Griffin said during the April 18 hearing of the Senate defense panel.

“We need to strike a balance between bringing in new technology and getting current technology out to the field,” he said, adding that the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center will be just the vehicle to achieve that balance.

Development of the Pentagon-led AI center will be part of a grander strategy on how the U.S. can compete on the technological battlefield of the 21st century. Department officials anticipate submitting a final road map to Congress in June on how it will leverage artificial intelligence into the overall U.S. National Security Strategy.

But congressional lawmakers remain concerned that Washington’s efforts to achieve parity with Russia and China in the field of AI may be too little, too late as both countries continue to move out aggressively in developing such technologies.

“The Chinese are leaning forward in advanced technology to gain momentum ahead of others. Their decision cycle between development and production is faster, frankly, than what the [Pentagon] is able to do,” Mr. Griffin said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the Navy’s fiscal 2019 budget request.

Beijing technologies are “now rivals in artificial intelligence, in quantum computing, in biotechnology. … The innovation ecosystem that they are building, right now, as we speak, is something that I hope we open our eyes to,” he told Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller during Thursday’s hearing.

China does not encounter the same resistance from its state-sponsored technology firms in developing applications for intelligence and military use, unlike Silicon Valley’s uncomfortable relationship with the Pentagon and the CIA in the post-Edward Snowden era.

China’s advantages in its indigenous tech sector aside, it is incumbent on Washington’s national security apparatus to not cede any more ground to Beijing or other competitors in the field of artificial intelligence, despite any challenges, officials say.

“Everyone wants innovation, but innovation is messy. If the department is really going to succeed in innovating, we’re going to have to get comfortable with people making mistakes,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

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