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Rigging For AI: How The US Navy Embraces Digital And Masters AI With Brett Vaughan, Chief AI Officer And AI Portfolio Manager At The Office Of Naval Research

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at August 7, 2021

Artificial intelligence is proving essential to enhancing and accelerating modern military forces and the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) is seeing the advantage AI can provide to maintain dominance over increasingly capable adversaries. In 2019 Brett Vaughan became the Navy Chief AI Officer and AI Portfolio Manager at the Office of Naval Research to further take advantage of the strategic value AI can provide. Brett has 30 years of Defense Intelligence and Technology expertise with strengths in military support, strategic communications, GEOINT, Naval Intelligence and Navy R&D allowing him to bring his diverse background to this role to help shape the Navy’s current and future plans for AI use, as well as AI development and adoption. Brett regularly communicates how the Navy is pushing their AI strategy forward, and will be speaking August 19, 2021 at an upcoming AI in Government virtual event

The US Navy’s AI Research

The potential of AI is almost infinite, since anything involving data and information has the potential for AI applications. However, the US Navy has limited resources, and pursuing every possible path of AI development is not a viable option. As the Navy’s Chief AI Officer, part of Mr. Vaughan’s job is weighing in on where to concentrate AI research and invest time and resources. Currently, the Navy’s AI research efforts are divided among 3 main areas of focus. 

First, the Navy is looking to reduce toil in all areas of the service. Using natural language processing (NLP) and other machine learning techniques, AI can handle many menial tasks relieving humans of these dull or repetitive assignments. Less humans doing manual work on spreadsheets means more humans available to complete higher level tasks, increasing efficiency and output.

The Navy is also working to bring new levels of autonomy to unmanned systems through AI. As one of the seven patterns of AI, autonomous systems can provide tremendous value. Unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned surface vessels, and unmanned undersea vessels are all potential use cases for AI applications. In addition to enabling functions like self-navigation, AI can assist unmanned systems in regulating power and thermals, making them more efficient. For unmanned combat vehicles, AI and ML can also be applied to imaging data to improve target identification and acquisition for weapons systems. AI can enhance the functionality of unmanned systems, enabling robots to take the risks, keeping soldiers away from unnecessary danger.

The Navy is also developing AI for use in decision support. By using AI as augmented intelligence the goal is not to replace humans but help them do their job or perform a task better. The Navy is looking at ways in which AI empowers humans to make fully informed decisions quicker, more efficiently, and with more confidence. 

Prioritization of AI Development

When choosing which AI technologies to develop, it’s important to begin by examining a problem, challenge, or mission and then consider whether some aspect of it lends itself to an AI solution. Not every problem can or should be solved with AI. When following best practices methodologies, such as Cognitive Project Management for AI (CPMAI) it’s always important to start with the business understanding and make sure you’re answering core business requirements and objectives.

For the Navy, if the problem or challenge can benefit from AI, this is where Vaughan and the ONR come into play. Currently, the ONR is working to examine and improve the Navy’s capabilities to man, train and equip a naval force. Focusing on technology-based issues or advancement opportunities, the ONR develops solutions to advance the Navy’s capabilities in certain sectors or meet needs that are currently unmet by today’s technology.

The ONR is also taking advantage of the assets from the Joint AI Center (JAIC) and its role in pushing AI technology forward. For years, talented people from across the Department of Defense have been working on AI within their own areas of focus or expertise. Now, to accelerate the adoption of AI across the Department of Defense (DoD), collaboration is necessary. The JAIC provides an environment and resources to enable people in the DoD to share data, ML models, and related AI and ML tools or assets. Spreading knowledge and resources through collaboration is how an organization can scale AI from single-case applications to more widespread solutions.

AI is proving an essential technology to enhance and accelerate modern militaries, and will only continue to play an increasing role in military applications. As such, the Navy will need to stay on top of the latest advancements and potentials in the field. It’s important for discussions to continue around challenges related to adopting both digital tech and a digital culture at the US Navy as well as what’s involved in the AI stack from provisioning, deploying and sustaining AI and cognitive technology.

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