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Blog Post

How AI Is Already Transforming Defense and Intelligence Technologies

By Tobias Naegele

January 24, 2018

A Harvard Belfer Center study commissioned by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), Artificial Intelligence and National Security, predicted last May that AI will be as transformative to national defense as nuclear weapons, aircraft, computers and biotech.

AI advances will enable new capabilities and make others more affordable – to both the U.S. and its adversaries, raising stakes as the United States seeks to preserve its hard-won strategic overmatch in the air, land, sea, space and cyberspace domains.

The Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy seeks to leverage AI and related technologies in a variety of ways, according to Robert Work, former deputy secretary of defense and one of the strategy’s architects. In a forward to a new report from the market analytics firm Govini, Work says the strategy “seeks to exploit advances in AI and autonomous systems to improve the performance of Joint Force guided munitions battle networks.”

“By exploiting advances in AI and autonomous systems to improve the warfighting potential and performance of the U.S. military,” Work says, “the strategy aims to restore the Joint Force’s eroding conventional overmatch versus any potential adversary, thereby strengthening conventional deterrence.”

Govini reports that AI and related defense program spending, which increased at a compound annual rate of 14.5 percent from 2012 to 2017, may grow even faster, as advanced computing technologies come on line, decreasing computational costs.

But what does that mean? How will AI change the way defense technology is managed, the way we gather and analyze intelligence, or how we protect our computer systems?

Charlie Greenbacker, vice president of analytics at In-Q-Tel in Arlington, Va., the intelligence community’s strategic investment arm, says new, more powerful processing techniques allow automation of parts of the intelligence cycle -- whether by distributing loads across a cloud infrastructure, or through specialty, purpose-built processors.

“I want humans to focus on more challenging, high-order problems and not the mundane problems of the world,” he says. “Specialized processing lets us do this a lot faster.”

Building Resiliency

Looking at cybersecurity another way, AI can also be used to rapidly identify and repair software vulnerabilities, said Brian Pierce, director of the Information Innovation Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

“We are using automation to engage cyber attackers in machine time, rather than human time,” he said. “Software flaws can last for minutes, instead of as long as years,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough how much this automation is a game changer in strengthening cyber resiliency.”

The promise is that instead of eyeballing thousands of images or scanning millions of network actions daily, computers can screen initially, freeing analysts for the harder task of interpreting results, says Dennis Gibbs, technical strategist, Intelligence and Security programs at General Dynamics Information Technology. “But just because the technology can do that, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Integrating that technology into existing systems and networks and processes is as much art as science. Success depends on how well you understand your customer. You have to understand how these things fit together.”