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Key Official Shares Air Force’s 5 AI Priorities

The Air Force’s co-chair of artificial intelligence (AI) on Wednesday revealed the military branch’s top five priorities for using the potentially earthshaking technology.

Capt. Michael Kanaan added that he hopes AI becomes as ubiquitous as horsepower across the entirety of America’s armed forces.

“No. 1 is driving down technical barriers to entry,” he said of the Air Force’s priorities during the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s (AFCEA) AI and Machine Learning Summit. “We should accept commercial solutions where appropriate. There’s no reason we should look at ourselves as special, unique or bespoke when we look to the private sector.”

Wednesday’s event was hosted by AFCEA’s Washington, D.C. chapter at the National Press Club. Kanaan said that after removing technical obstacles to AI, the Air Force is prioritizing data.

“No. 2 is recognizing and treating data as a strategic resource,” he said. “It’s talking about the process of data management. AI comes from data and it comes from our expertise.”

Kanaan then stressed the importance of using AI to improve not only the Air Force but other elements of the military and the federal government driving it.

“No. 3 is democratizing access to AI solutions,” he said. “It’s not only internally but externally. It’s all those pieces we have to leverage safely and securely.”

Kanaan next noted that the Air Force aims to reform how the service’s employees conduct their operations and workflows after adopting AI.

“No. 4 is our people,” he said. “We have to upscale our workforce. We look at this as game-changing in a lot of ways.”

Kanaan then cited the Defense Department’s (DoD) past work rewarding foreign language proficiencies as an example of how federal workers could engage AI.

“In 2019, computer languages should be treated as functional and objective equivalents to human languages,” he said.

Kanaan added that the Air Force considers transparency into the service’s AI usage the final part of the branch’s equation for the technology.

“I think that fundamentally, we’re talking past each other,” he said of how federal leaders and employees are discussing AI. “It’s important to make sure that we’re translating.”

Kanaan’s comments follow the release of DoD’s AI strategy in February 2019, a plan which emphasized the U.S. military adopting the technology for warfighting involving all its services.

The strategy also stated that DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) would be a focal point of the agency’s future AI plans. Speaking Wednesday, JAIC’s first director said that DoD’s AI program needs a strong foundation in cloud computing.

“Enterprise cloud is part of this solution,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan said. “Every time we come up with a project, there’s data that comes out of it. Everything must be harvested.”

Shanahan added that cloud is the only platform capable of sustaining the agility and scalability DoD needs for AI.

“[Enterprise cloud’s] the lodestar,” he said. “We’re trying to take cutting edge AI and bolt it onto legacy systems and workflows. The rubber band is getting stretched thin.”

Kanaan, meanwhile, encouraged his listeners to remember that despite its potential, AI’s ultimate impact remains unclear.

“AI is just another tool,” he said. “That’s how it’s going to be used, no different than a hammer. It can put in nails, pull out nails and hurt people. It’s critical to communicate about these topics.”

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Profile Photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Very interesting post, Mark. I’m curious to see if there will be any movement on this effort: “Kanaan then cited the Defense Department’s (DoD) past work rewarding foreign language proficiencies as an example of how federal workers could engage AI. “‘In 2019, computer languages should be treated as functional and objective equivalents to human languages,’ he said.”