Pentagon hires first chief digital and AI officer from Lyft

(DOD / Lisa Ferdinando)

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Craig Martell has left his role as head of machine learning for Silicon Valley rideshare company Lyft to be the Pentagon’s first chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, the Department of Defense announced Monday.

Martell has also held machine learning and AI roles at Dropbox and Linkedin. His professional experience with the U.S. military is limited to his service as a tenured computer science professor at the Naval Postgraduate School specializing in natural language processing.

“Advances in AI and machine learning are critical to delivering the capabilities we need to address key challenges both today and into the future,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. “With Craig’s appointment, we hope to see the department increase the speed at which we develop and field advances in AI, data analytics, and machine-learning technology. He brings cutting-edge industry experience to apply to our unique mission set.” 

The Department of Defense announced the creation of the Chief Digital and AI Office last December to centralize oversight of data and AI initiatives under one official at the highest levels of the Pentagon. The CDAO reports directly to the deputy secretary of Defense.

The CDAO launched with initial operational capability Feb. 1 and plans to reach full operational capability by June.

The Pentagon office of the Chief Information Officer transferred the Joint AI Center to the CDAO’s leadership. The new office will also oversee the Pentagon’s Defense Digital Service and the chief data officer units.

Last month, the Department of Defense announced Margaret Palmieri as deputy chief digital and artificial intelligence officer. Palmieri was special assistant to the vice chief of naval operations and previously founded and directed the Navy Digital Warfare Office.

While the CDAO sits separately from the office of the CIO in the Pentagon’s reporting structure, the two offices will operate closely together to support the DOD’s core IT and digital mission sets.

CIO John Sherman has been serving as interim CDAO since February. He told FedScoop last month that the job of the incoming CDAO will be to “raise the waterline” for AI and digital development across the military services and commands. That will require “tapping into all of the department’s data and then leveraging that for really at-speed analytics to be able to give commanders, decision makers — all the way from Secretary [of Defense Lloyd] Austin to a combatant commander to a leader in the field” — the capabilities needed to stay ahead of China, which is the Pentagon’s “pacing challenge,” Sherman said.

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Chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, Craig Martell, Department of Defense (DOD), john sherman, Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), Silicon Valley
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