The Air Force has been on an almost three-year journey to integrate artificial intelligence into operations and that effort will soon be more apparent as the service plans to declassify its artificial intelligence strategy, Capt. Michael Kanaan, the service’s co-chair for artificial intelligence, said June 26 at the AI World Government Conference in Washington, D.C.
“We had to find a way to get us to a place where we could talk about AI in a pragmatic, principled, meaningful way,” said Kanaan.
During his speech, Kanaan laid out five principles that have guided the Air Force with artificial intelligence in the meantime. They are:
1. Technological barriers will be a significant hurdle.
Kanaan said the service has made it a point to limit technological obstacles. However, one problem contractors may face is higher priced products geared toward security-driven government programs versus the same, less expensive commercial programs. A new attitude toward commercial off-the-shelf technology within the service can help, he said.
“Too often working with our agencies, they have to take risks in the framework of time, people and bespoke unique solutions to deploy on your systems,” Kanaan said. However, this does not have to be the case. “Accept commercial standards because unclassified does not mean un-secured."
2. Data needs to be treated like a strategic asset.
“We used to ask the question, if a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound. Well, in the 21st century the real question to ask is was something there to measure it,” he said. He explained this involves looking at when and how to digitize workflows.
3. The Air Force must be able to democratize access to AI.
“This is an opportunity now to say, machine learning as our end state, if done right, should be readable to everyone else,” Kanaan said.
This will involve balancing support and operations and taking into consider the reality that the demographics of the traditional workforce are going to shift, Kanaan explained.
“Not looking at the top one percent, but focusing on the 99 percent of our workforce,” he said. “The Air Force, of those 450,000 people, 88 percent are millennials [adults under 40]."
Looking to digital natives in the integration process will be valuable because this younger slice of the workforce already has insights into how this technology works.
4. Computer skills must be viewed as strategic assets.
Just as the Defense Department has treated foreign language skills as an asset, Kanaan said, the Air Force must view computer skills the same way.
In the United States, 50,000 graduates qualified for 500,000 technology-based jobs each year, and the Air Force must promote emerging technology skills the way it did traditional electrical engineering, astronautics and aeronautics during the space race, Kanaan said. “I believe that it is time for another national defense education act," Kanaan said.
5. Communication, transparency and cooperation are imperative.
As innovations are made, communication, transparency and cooperation are necessary for discussions with international governments, industry and academic partners, Kanaan said.
“As Americans we should be communicating about the ethics of artificial intelligence and how we view society every single day. These are important topics and they do provide that signal to the rest of the world that we view our society in different ways than maybe some others and our values and norms are important because AI at its end state bolsters our biases.”
Most importantly, these issues must be addressed sooner rather than later, Kanaan said.
Kelsey Reichmann is a general assignment editorial fellow supporting Defense News, Fifth Domain, C4ISRNET and Federal Times. She attended California State University.