AI Wars: relax, it’s not the end of the world

The profound implications of AI and machine learning on security are not lost on governments.

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Is artificial intelligence (AI) a panacea to make work and life nearly effortless – or the first step to a nightmare scenario of self-aware machines?

There’s been both ballyhoo and angst over the prospects of AI, including some that think AI poses a risk to the “existence of human civilization.”

On the other hand, senior military and national security leaders have asserted that to not pursue AI is the real existential threat, as it can put the country at risk from other nations that don’t share the need for caution.

With apologies to those who fear the worst, federal and SLED governments have come down squarely on the side of vigorously pursuing artificial intelligence.

Companies that sell storage solutions, automation, big data, security and data mining tools should be encouraged by all the buzz going on in government about AI. Let’s look at some of the underlying drivers behind AI – and reasons why companies with a hand in the AI space should take note.

Dramatic cost savings

The consulting company Deloitte estimates that even low-investment AI, which could improve the speed at which human tasks can be performed by up to 20 percent, could translate to a savings of 96.7 million human hours in government. A high investment in AI, which might speed human tasks by as much as 200 percent, could mean well over one billion human hours saved in government functions.

That’s a clear savings of billions of dollars for the cash-strapped federal budget coffers. The money saved from lifting operational burdens through machine learning can be redirected to even more AI technology, enabling greatly improved government services by collecting shared data and interpreting that information for the greater good.

AI Wars: the new space race

Late last year, Chris Miller, executive director of SPAWAR Atlantic, addressed the Defense Contractors Association of Charleston SC, calling AI “the space race of the 21st century.”

“Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re in a competitive space to own this technology,” Miller said. With other nations, most notably China, emphasizing its own AI development, Miller urged the U.S. to be strategic about the role the technology can play domestically.

China indeed has its sights set on becoming the world leader in AI by 2030. By some reports, that could be an industry worth $150 billion. To get to the leadership position, China’s central government will be developing new AI theories that could lead to real breakthroughs as early as 2025. Those breakthroughs could reshape Chinese industry altogether.

The potential threat implied in that push for dominance has already prompted the Department of Defense here in the U.S. to establish a joint AI center overseen by DOD CIO Dana Deasy. In an announcement made early in July, DOD said the center will coordinate efforts on AI projects worth more than $15 million annually. The projects that make the cut will get fast-tracked for funding in the fiscal 2018 budget to accelerate their development.

This joint center builds on the Pentagon’s interest in “algorithmic warfare,” using machine learning to improve warfighting and decision-making. The trades have already widely reported on DOD’s Project Maven as an example of how the Pentagon plans to use both AI and machine learning, in this case to assist in the analysis of drone footage.

Even Congress is getting into the act, with the House Armed Services Committee establishing an artificial intelligence commission that will offer recommendations on organizing the federal government to address new and emerging AI threats.

As Francis Bacon said over 400 years ago, knowledge is power. And knowledge, for some in government, is the blockbuster gamechanger in the new millennium.

Colonel Drew Cukor, director of ISR PED at the office of the under secretary of defense for intelligence, told an audience in Washington DC in June that AI is “as big as the introduction of nuclear weapons into the Department of Defense." The technology, Cukor said, has the potential to upend the status quo across nearly every aspect of defense, from medicine to operations to logistics.

Changing the conversation – PLUS, not VERSUS

There’s no denying that AI has huge potential. It’s not just a buzzword, it’s an up-and-coming technology that’s quickly finding its way into government. Now is the time for companies to start presenting DOD and intel agencies with AI and machine-learning solutions that address cybersecurity challenges.

The implications of AI and machine learning on security are profound. With this technology, it becomes faster and easier to understand what malicious behavior looks like, identify fraud and abuse, and detect both new and familiar patterns much more quickly than human beings ever could on their own.

To that extent, we really are witnessing the earliest days of a sophistication among machines that was only dreamt of in works of science fiction just a few decades ago.

But let’s not panic. There’s no need to start planning for the obsolescence of the human race. The key in moving from panic to progress is to change the tenor of the conversation.

Let’s stop thinking “man versus machine” and start thinking “man plus machine.” AI is giving us the opportunity to automate and streamline our government services at a rate we have never experienced before. By being flexible about it and allowing it to be incorporated into our processes, we will be able to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

That in turn will give our government the flexibility to properly concentrate its resources on frontline priorities.

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