The new acting director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), Nand Mulchandani, gave his first-ever Pentagon press conference on July 8, where he laid out what is ahead for the JAIC and how current projects are unfolding.
The press conference comes two years after Google pulled out of Project Maven, also known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team. According to the Pentagon, the project that was launched in April 2017 aimed to develop “computer-vision algorithms needed to help military and civilian analysts encumbered by the sheer volume of full-motion video data that DOD collects every day in support of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations.”
One of the Pentagon’s main objectives was to have algorithms implemented into “warfighting systems” by the end of 2017.
The proposal was met by strong opposition, including 3,000 Google employees who signed a petition protesting against the company’s involvement in the project.
According to Mulchandani, that dynamic has changed and the JAIC is now receiving support from tech firms, including Google.
“We have had overwhelming support and interest from tech industry in working with the JAIC and the DoD,” Mulchandani said. “[we] have commercial contracts and work going on with all of the major tech and AI companies – including Google – and many others.”
Mulchandani sits in a much better position than his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, when it comes to the relationship between the JAIC and Silicon Valley. Shanahan founded the JAIC in 2018 and had a tense relationship with the tech industry, whereas Mulchandani spent much of his life as a part of it. He has co-founded and led multiple startup companies.
The JAIC 2.0
The JAIC was created in 2018 with a focus on low technology risk areas, like disaster relief and predictive maintenance. Now with these projects advancing, there is work being done to transition them into production.
Termed JAIC 2.0, the new plan includes six mission initiatives that are all underway, including joint warfighting operations, warfighter health, business process transformation, threat reduction and protection, joint logistics, and the newest one, joint information warfare. The latest addition includes cyber operations.
There is special focus now being turned to the joint warfighting operations mission, which adopts the priorities of the National Defense Strategy in regard to technological advances in the United States military.
The JAIC has not laid out many specifics about the new project, but Mulchandani referred to it as “tactical edge AI” and said that it will be controlled fully by humans.
Mulchandani answered a question from a reporter about General Shanahan’s statements as director about lethal AI application by 2021, which “could be the first lethal AI in the industry.”
Here is how he responded:
“I don’t want to start straying into issues around autonomy and lethality versus lethal — or lethality itself. So yes, it is true that many of the products we work will go into weapon systems.”
“None of them right now are going to be autonomous weapon systems. We’re still governed by 3000.09, that principle still stays intact. None of the work or anything that General Shanahan may have mentioned crosses that line period.”
“Now we do have projects going under Joint Warfighting, which are going to be actually going into testing. They are very tactical edge AI is the way I describe it. And that work is going to be tested, it’s actually very promising work, we’re very excited about it. It’s — it’s one of the, as I talked about the pivot from predictive maintenance and others to Joint Warfighting, that is the — probably the flagship product that we’re sort of thinking about and talking about that will go out there.”
“But, it will involve, you know, operators, human in the loop, full human control, all of those things are still absolutely valid.”
In his statement, Mulchandani also talked about the “huge potential for using AI in offensive capabilities” like cybersecurity.
“You can read the news in terms of what our adversaries are doing out there, and you can imagine that there’s a lot of room for growth in that area,” he said.
Mulchandani revealed what the JAIC is doing in regard to challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, through a recent $800 million contract with Booz Allen Hamilton, and Project Salus. JAIC developed a series of algorithms for NORTHCOM and National Guard units to predict supply chain resource challenges.