For the military, ‘AI is not IT’: JAIC wants to focus on data and decisions, not tech

Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, Joint Artificial Intelligence Center director, conducts a press briefing about the DOD's efforts to adopt and scale artificial intelligence capabilities, from the Pentagon, Washington D.C., Nov. 24, 2020. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)

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The Department of Defense‘s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center wants to help the military become a data-driven force, transitioning away from its first two years of focus on fielding tools.

What JAIC leaders want their fellow uniformed and civilian leaders to understand is how AI works with data and how they can use it to improve their decision making.

“AI is about decision making, not decision making in the abstract but decision making in the finite, in the moment,” Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, the JAIC’s new director, said in a press conference Tuesday.

The JAIC’s new role as a data evangelist will bring new challenges, including trying to change the nature of warfighting decision making and getting non-technologists to work with its tech. That shift requires buy-in from the whole department at all echelons of leadership, Groen said. And the JAIC is now working to strengthen its relationships with military leaders across the force.

Groen stressed that the JAIC wants to give commanders support in the field. He said often senior-level military leaders need to make decisions without “ground truth” data to help guide them. That’s a situation that JAIC wants to eliminate by working directly with leaders to figure out what data they need and how the JAIC can help them process it.

“This is not IT … this is warfighting business,” Groen said, seeming to try and separate AI from other technology that military leadership has not always fully embraced.

Central to the JAIC’s success in its new mission will be the Joint Common Foundation (JCF), the JAIC’s in-house AI development environment. The JCF will be part coding and data platform and part “soft services” — a one-stop-shop where service members across the DOD can get help on things like AI procurement and ethics training.

Building out the JCF is a top priority for the JAIC, Groen said.

Part of the structural changes that Groen described is moving its product-focused initiatives to build out “fly-away teams” that can embed with units across the department to find AI solutions to their problems. These teams of data-savvy JAIC employees would be sent to help bridge technical gaps in parts of the department’s AI implementation. That could look like connecting an office with a contractor that can help them or working to build an algorithm of their own. The office will also partner with the DOD’s chief data officer to implement the DOD’s new data strategy.

“We will help find them an AI solution,” Groen said.

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artificial intelligence (AI), big data, chief data officer (CDO), Department of Defense (DOD), Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), Michael Groen
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