Cap. Michael Kanaan Explains the Value of Air Force’s AI Strategy

Air Force

Co-Chair for Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the Air Force Captain Michael Kanaan explained the five principles guiding the agency’s AI strategy, and how each principle can be embraced by other Federal actors, at AI in Action on Dec. 3.

Kanaan elaborated on how each guiding principle in the Air Force’s AI strategy, released in September 2019, encourages the agency’s leadership in the field. He said that if the United States does not embrace AI leadership at this moment, other regimes with conflicting intentions will take charge.

“The moral, ethical and legal dilemmas that we face are different,” the co-chair said. “This will be tough because those who don’t move forward will lose their comparative advantages.”

The first principle of Air Force’s AI strategy is reducing technological barriers to entry. Eliminating technological barriers to entry are the “technological choices today that are the strategic decisions of tomorrow,” Kanaan said.

Air Force AI also relies on data as a strategic asset. Kanaan explained that the rise of C-suite executives, like chief data officers, reporting to the under secretary of the Air Force has built credibility for AI programs. Without leadership buy in, Kanaan said, the Air Force would not have gotten to a place where it can use AI.

Kanaan’s third principle is to democratize access to AI solutions. No matter how different AI use cases across the Federal government may seem, he explained, the tactical capabilities of AI remain the same.  He added that most AI solutions already exist, especially in the commercial space, and they should be utilized.

Next, the AI co-chair emphasized a “critical piece” of Air Force’s AI strategy: recruiting, developing, and upskilling the workforce. For example, Air Force recently launched a computer language initiative in which staff completed a self-assessment on their capabilities. From dentists to pilots, over 3,000 workers who the Air Force may not have tapped for automation projects otherwise identified themselves as knowledgeable on the subject.

Kanaan compared this principle to the Sputnik era. When Sputnik launched, bipartisan legislation and other Federal efforts invested billions of dollars into the education system to provide the U.S. with an advantage in the space race. At a time when 50,000 students will be graduating with qualifications to fill 500,000 open software engineering jobs, Kanaan said that the Federal government has an opportunity to “play a critical role in helping” advance AI interests.

Air Force’s final principle in its AI strategy is to increase transparency and cooperation with international, government, industry, and academic partners. Biased decision-making—Kanaan shared as an example—is often feared by AI developers. However, Kanaan said that illuminating the conversations around issues in AI is how organizations can work toward solutions.

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