The Pentagon’s top artificial intelligence official laid out the Defense Department’s vision yesterday for scaling digital data analytics and AI across the department to ensure decision advantage for the warfighter.

Craig Martell, DOD’s chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, addressed stakeholders from throughout the department and industry as he kicked off the three-day Advantage DOD 2024: Defense Data and AI Symposium hosted by the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office in Washington.   

“Imagine a world where combatant commanders can see everything they need to see to make strategic decisions,” Martell said in painting a picture of the AI-enabled future for the audience. “Imagine a world where those combatant commanders aren’t getting that information via PowerPoint or via emails from across the [organization] — the turnaround time for situational awareness shrinks from a day or two to 10 minutes.”  

Martell, who holds a doctorate in computer and information sciences, was appointed to his position with the department in 2022. Prior to joining the DOD, he served as head of machine learning for the ride sharing platform Lyft.   

Realizing this vision, he said, is about building the foundation to enable industry stakeholders and warfighters close to the tactical edge to leverage data and artificial intelligence to solve problems in an evolving landscape.  

In November, DOD released its strategy to accelerate the adoption of advanced artificial intelligence capabilities to ensure U.S. warfighters maintain decision superiority on the battlefield for years to come.  

The strategy prescribes an agile approach to AI development and application, emphasizing speed of delivery and adoption at scale leading to five specific decision advantage outcomes:

  • Superior battlespace awareness and understanding 
  • Adaptive force planning and application  
  • Fast, precise and resilient kill chains  
  • Resilient sustainment support  
  • Efficient enterprise business operations  

The blueprint also trains the focus of the department on several data, analytics and AI-related goals:

  • Invest in interoperable, federated infrastructure  
  • Advance the data, analytics and AI ecosystem  
  • Expand digital talent management  
  • Improve foundational data management  
  • Deliver capabilities for the enterprise business and joint warfighting impact  
  • Strengthen governance and remove policy barriers  

Taken together, these goals will support the “DOD AI Hierarchy of Needs” which the strategy defines as: quality data, governance, insightful analytics and metrics, assurance and responsible AI.  

Martell said during his address today the CDAO’s focus baseline needs are key to enabling the warfighter to leverage the power of AI.  

“Winning for us is when everyone else thinks ‘I launched AI; I solved this data problem. I quickly leveraged data to build an analytical solution that solved my commander’s problem right away, and I have the tools, I have the infrastructure, I have the policies and I have the contract vehicles to deliver it,'” he said. “That’s winning.”

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