The DOD needs to define AI and protect its data better, watchdog says

The view from a camera in the Pentagon briefing room on Feb. 24, 2020, as Department of Defense Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy and Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan spoke to the press on the adoption of ethical principles for artificial intelligence. (DOD / Lisa Ferdinando)

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What is artificial intelligence, anyway?

It’s a question that the Department of Defense should answer, according to a new report by DOD’s inspector general. The watchdog says that while parts of the DOD have their own definitions, the department must settle on a standard, establish strong governance structures for the technology and develop more consistent security controls so as not to put the military’s AI technology and other systems at risk.

“Without consistent application of security controls, malicious actors can exploit vulnerabilities on the networks and systems of DoD Components and contractors and steal information related to some of the Nation’s most valuable AI technologies,” the report states.

The desired security controls appear to be basic, like using strong passwords and monitoring for unusual network activity. Much of the security updates need to happen at service-level offices working on AI, but contractors also must be included in the uniform standards as well, the IG says.

Need for coordination

The report commends the DOD’s early work to adopt goals and initiatives, and incorporate ethics principles into its AI development. But more standardization of that work needs to happen for it to mean something, the IG says. Much of the department-wide standardization and coordination needs to happen in the Joint AI Center (JAIC), the DOD’s AI hub.

“As of March 2020, while the JAIC has taken some steps, additional actions are needed to develop and implement an AI governance framework and standards,” the report said.

Much of the IG report echos criticism from a RAND Cooperation report on the JAIC. The RAND report detailed a lack of structure in the new office and recommend better coordination across the department, as does the IG report.

Responding to the report, the DOD CIO said that the JAIC has taken several steps already that the IG recommend. They include plans for a “AI Executive Steering Group” and several other working groups and subcommittees to coordinate work in specific areas like workforce recruitment and standards across the departments.

“The final report does not completely reflect a number of actions the JAIC took over the past year to enhance DoD-wide AI governance and to accelerate scaling AI and its impact across the DoD,” the CIO wrote to the IG.

The fuel that all AI runs on — data — is still in short (usable) supply. The IG recommended the DOD CIO set up more data-sharing mechanisms. While data sharing will increase the ability for data-driven projects to flourish, the JAIC needs better visibility as to how many AI initiatives are underway across the department.

Currently, the DOD doesn’t know how many AI projects its many components have under way. That’s a problem if offices like the JAIC are to be a central hub for both AI policy and fielding.

“Without a reliable baseline of active AI projects within the DoD … the JAIC will not be able to effectively execute its mission to maintain an accounting of DoD AI initiatives,” the report stated.

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Cybersecurity, cybersecurity workforce, Department of Defense (DOD), DOD IG, IT governance, Jack Shanahan, Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC)
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