Congress used its annual defense policy bill to require leadership at the Department of Defense to double down on artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly said artificial intelligence is a critical technology to staying ahead of potential adversaries. Earlier this month, the Defense Department reorganized its leadership structure to put a greater emphasis on emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence. In addition, the Pentagon said it plans to spend $1.7 billion over the next five years to stand up a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, according to new budgeting figures.

Most recently, in an agreement between Congressional negotiators released July 23, lawmakers called for the Pentagon to establish a new commission to review advances in AI technology, a 15-member body that would meet regularly until October 2020. Members will be appointed by the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Commerce and members of congressional defense committees.

The commission will focus on AI, machine learning and associated technology with respect to national security and defense. It is expected to review the competitiveness of U.S. technology and foreign advances in AI, potential workforce and education incentives to attract and recruit talent for AI and machine learning technology jobs and research ways to foster emphasis and investments in research to stimulate the development of AI technology.

The commission is tasked with presenting an initial report to the President and Congress within 180 days of the passage of the bill. It is also expected to produce annual comprehensive reports on the same topics, which will be publicly available.

In addition to the new commission, the NDAA bill establishes other changes to address AI, machine learning and quantum science technology. They include:

A designated official to coordinate AI and machine learning technology development

The bill instructs the Secretary of Defense to designate an official who will be responsible for “developing a strategic plan to develop, adopt and transition artificial intelligence technologies into operational use.”

This version encourages the official to partner with industry, academia and private industries, and use the “flexibility of regulations and acquisition,” to develop and field AI and machine learning technology for the Department of Defense.

Reports submitted by the Secretary of Defense about US competitiveness in emerging technologies

The bill also requires that the Secretary of Defense and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency submit classified reports that compare the capabilities of the United States and its adversaries in emerging technology areas.

The reports are expected to evaluate hypersonic, AI, quantum information science and directed energy weapons technologies.

The NDAA bill says that reports should include evaluations of spending, quantity, quality, test infrastructure, work force and the willingness of adversaries to use technology.

Improving the Air Force supply chain

The NDAA bill allows the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics to use funds for “non-traditional technologies and sustainment practices [which includes artificial intelligence] to increase the availability of aircraft to the Air Force and decrease backlogs and lead times for the production of parts.”

The assistant secretary is able to use up to $42.8 million for research, development, test and evaluation.

Maddy is a senior at George Washington University studying economics.

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