As he departs, the Defense Department’s top artificial intelligence official says the foundation is set for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center — but now it must deliver.

“The foundational elements are now in place. What we have to do in the course of the next one to two years is deliver. This is about delivery first and foremost,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan said during a virtual Mitchell Institute event June 4. “What we have to do is show that we’re making a difference.”

The Department of Defense announced in January that Shanahan would be depart this summer. He took over the JAIC in December 2018. Before that, he oversaw Project Maven, a pathfinder effort to utilize AI and machine learning for analyzing full-motion video.

Over his year-and-a-half tenure at the JAIC, Shanahan grew the organization from just a handful of people to a fully operational team with funding and adequate staffing. As the center’s first director, Shanahan rhetorically pushed the focus on military AI away from the idea of killer robots and toward data analysis and maintenance efforts. He oversaw both the JAIC’s efforts to develop five principles of AI for the DoD and the awarding of the center’s first major contract — a five-year, $800 million task order to Booz Allen Hamilton for AI services.

“In the 18 months that I’ve been in the seat, I’d say we put all the foundational elements in place,” Shanahan said. “Taking an organization that was in June 2018 [made up of] four volunteers with no money and a couple of cubicles in different spots to work out of, to where we are today with 185 people with a $1.3 billion budget — we’ve grown so fast that we’ve exceeded our current spaces and we’re moving into a separate facility. All of that’s happened in 18 months. For the Department of Defense, that’s as fast of a growth spurt as you can possibly imagine.”

On June 1, Shanahan passed on the reins to Chief Technology Officer Nand Mulchandani, who will serve as interim director until a permanent three-star general or flag officer is confirmed.

“In the interim, I am thrilled that our chief technology officer, Nand Mulchandani — over 26 years of experience at Silicon Valley doing this for a living at software companies — will be the acting director. He transformed the organization from the moment he showed up, and he’s intently focused on [Joint All Domain Command and Control], looking at it from a different lens of a software company CEO,” Shanahan said.

Mulchandani joined the JAIC in 2019 as the chief technology officer after a quarter century of work as a senior executive in Silicon Valley.

“Lt. General Shanahan leaves behind an incredible legacy as an AI pioneer for the Department of Defense. His 36 years of faithful service to our nation culminating in the establishment of Project Maven and the JAIC is truly inspiring,” Mulchandani said in a statement.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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