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DOD Maven AI project develops first algorithms, starts testing

In his first public remarks since an industry day held on October 24, Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, leader of the Department of Defense’s Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team(AWCFT), described the status of his team’s efforts and his ongoing vision for the project. Shanahan said AWCFT’s first algorithms have been developed,  and that four are ready for testing. He was confident the first of these would be delivered by the end of the year, with additional classes, platforms, and requirements delivered throughout 2018.

AWCFT, or Project Maven, is a DOD effort to bring artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions to problems in the defense space. Shanahan described how analysts in the present day, despite having far more data sources, still spend their time performing basic tasks like sorting, labeling, and describing. Shanahan hopes, and believes, Maven will allow these analysts to spend time on tasks humans are uniquely suited to complete like contextualization and red teaming.

While the effort currently focuses on full-motion video sensor data from the MQ-9 and MQ-19 UAV platforms, Shanahan said tasks down the line would include document exploitation, collection management, war gaming, modeling and simulations, and indications and warnings. In describing his future vision, Shanahan went as far as to say that he believed DOD should never buy another technological platform without artificial intelligence capabilities baked into it.

Project Maven’s team, which currently numbers about a dozen people, has faced problems specific to its mission as well as ones confronting any disruptive effort within the defense community. Shanahan listed intellectual property, non-traditional companies, acquisition regulations, traditional contractors, data rights, and interoperability as examples of challenges the team has encountered. However, Shanahan noted that Maven has operated within the standard Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement (DFARS) framework to this point. He also noted that the team’s industry day saw over 130 companies, both small and large, interested in participating in the program.

Shanahan believes Maven “is not about changing the culture, but unleashing it.” He cited the case of an U.S. Air Force commander who faced the loss of analysts because they saw how far back DOD was in comparison to the advances taking place in industry.

Though he’s confident Maven can positively contribute to the defense community with efforts already in progress, Shanahan noted that cloud computing capabilities would be necessary for its success in the field. He said a Maven-specific cloud computing capability has been developed apart from DOD’s cloud steering group, but it has not yet been certified. Down the line, advances in quantum computing and training techniques which do not require massive amounts of data will further improve the team’s ability to generate meaningful solutions in a short time-frame. In summarizing Maven’s approach, Shanahan put it succinctly: start small, stay focused, and win early

About the Author

Adin Dobkin is a freelance contributor to Defense Systems and Connected Warrior

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