Spurred by a desire to overmatch future foes with modern technology, the Defense Department is boosting investment in core tech areas such as artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing. While spending in those three areas reached more than $7 billion in 2017 – a 32 percent increase over five years ago – anything short of a technological revolution could threaten the United States, according to a new report.
“Rapid advances in artificial intelligence – and the vastly improved autonomous systems and operations they will enable – are pointing towards new and more novel warfighting applications involving human-machine collaboration and combat teaming,” former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who helped launch the Third Offset military technology strategy, wrote in a new Govini report. “Military revolutions ‘are periods of discontinuous change that render obsolete or subordinate existing means for conducting war.’ The U.S. military can either lead the coming revolution, or fall victim to it.”
Work’s warning comes as DoD leaders appear to be warming up to the necessary research and development investments that will underpin a “revolution” in artificial intelligence, cloud, big data analytics and related key technologies that enable man-machine teaming and autonomous capabilities.
Of the $7.4 billion spent on AI, big data and cloud in fiscal 2017, AI accounted for only 33 percent but “contributed significantly to the overall growth in spending from [fiscal] 2012.” DoD spending in the three AI segments – learning and intelligence, advanced computing and AI systems – grew the most from 2012 through 2017 by 13.7 percent, 11.6 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively, the Govini report stated.
Within AI, big winners for 2017 so far include:
· Investment in natural language processing under learning and intelligence, which accounted for nearly $83 million (an increase over 2012 of more almost 17 percent)
· Deep learning spending increased the second-most by 14.9 percent to $238.1 million
· Machine learning followed with an increase of 14.3 percent to $195.5 million
· Within the advanced computing segment, quantum computing spending increased the most by 16.8 percent to reach $68.8 million
· Neuromorphic engineering followed with an increase of 13.7 percent, reaching $97.8 million
· Supercomputing, the largest and most mature sub-segment, had CAGR of 9.7 percent with spending reaching $258.4 million in FY2017.
Within the AI Systems segment, computer vision – an area heavy on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – spending grew the most, by 19 percent between 2012 and 2017. Specifically advancements included the areas of image definition, widening field-of-view and micro chips for processing imagery data, the report noted.
But the Third Offset is not all about AI.
“While advancing AI has been a priority of DoD, other investments in foundational categories such as big data and cloud must be made in order for AI to reach its full potential,” the report’s authors wrote. To that end, big data technologies related to collecting, processing and analyzing data represent the largest category, accounting for 54.4 percent of total spending from 2012 through 2017.
Big data can’t be done well without cloud, which is currently the smallest of the three spending categories, growing by 9 percent to reach $1.4 million in 2017, the study said. “However, with the recent announcement that DoD is accelerating a shift to the cloud, this number is likely to rise,” according to the report.
Will it be enough? Only time – and how DoD and the commercial sector invest in, develop and deploy these technologies – will tell. The report is clear that an all-in approach is necessary, particularly on the part of the military.
“The Third Offset Strategy’s desirable ends are well within reach if tied to an urgent and concerted DoD initiative to pursue them,” wrote Work, who said the initiative requires two parallel efforts.
“The first is a robust, focused, and prioritized research and development program designed to explore and field the technologies necessary to implement the strategy’s vision. This is the realm of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, specifically the new Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering,” Work wrote. “The second is the development of new operational concepts and organizational constructs to exploit these new technologies. This effort will fall primarily to the military services and combatant commands to implement.”