White House, Pentagon release AI strategies this week

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Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work discusses the potential long-term impact of the White House and DoD strategies released this week.


On Monday, President Trump signed an executive order creating the American AI Initiative, and on Tuesday, the Department of Defense released it’s new artificial intelligence strategy. The two documents outline how civilian and military agencies will pursue the emerging technology. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work says that the Pentagon’s current posturing indicates a “decentralized approach” to AI.

“You have activities going on in the Department of Defense, in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, they do real hard research on AI. You have all sorts of applications research going on throughout the department, like how would we improve finding submarines by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to look at sonar returns. You have this kind of decentralized approach,” said Work. “What I would like to see is a plan that has a little bit more meat on the bones. That says ‘Here are the specific objectives and this is what we want to see happen.’ In my own mind, I think the United States has to determine if it wants to have an Apollo program for AI with some moonshots. ‘This is what we are aiming for,’ getting academia, getting the commercial industry, getting the Defense Department, all working together. Or if it wants to do a more decentralized approach. In my view I would like a little bit more directive because I believe we are in a hot competition. But, I’m not certain yet.”

Work told Government Matters that these documents only represent what the administration wants, and Congress could steer U.S. AI development in a different direction.

“[The order] represents the strength of the executive branch. But, Congress has a big say in this. They’ve written several laws that have said, ‘Hey, Congress wants to be a big player in this and wants to be a big player in how we set up for this competition… The National Security Commission on AI was set up by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act, and you will see the executive branch and the legislative branch starting to work more closely together to determine how we approach this.”