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Highlights from TransformX 2021: U.S. Government Sessions

by Scale Team on November 30th, 2021

Highlights from TransformX 2021: U.S. Government Sessions cover

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now a part of our everyday lives and has the potential to massively impact the future of our society. Leaders in the private sector are making a real-world impact with AI today - from autonomous vehicles, medical diagnostics, vaccine distribution, and eCommerce. We also recognize the importance of the federal government, academia, and the private sector to work collaboratively to drive innovation and ensure continued U.S. leadership in technology.

In early October, we hosted our second virtual conference: TransformX. Over the two days, we brought together more than 22,000 researchers, practitioners, and executives to hear from leaders across industries, academia, and government. We’re excited to share some key insights and takeaways that the foremost government leaders have on the future of AI.

Fireside Chats With Key Leaders

Mark “Drifter” Valentine, Head of Federal at Scale AI hosted fireside discussions with key government and private sector leaders including Lieutenant General Kirk S. Pierce, Commander, Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region-1st Air Force, Rear Admiral Lorin Selby, Chief of Naval Research, and Steven Escaravage, Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Lieutenant General Kirk S. Pierce

LTG Pierce spoke with Mark on operationalizing AI for National Security.

For Pierce, homeland defense is a chief interest. To work effectively and with prudence, “We have this grand, sweeping concept of joint all domain command and control.” To achieve this, Pierce says interoperability is key. The key to interoperability? Data.

“We cannot continue to have data stovepipes,” he said. “Depending on wherever that data comes from—whether it's a sensor, above water, below water, in space, whatever it is, we want to have the data to be able to make decisions.”

He also said that he sees AI and ML operability as “an opportunity to reset, fundamentally, how we look at information, how we aggregate information and be able to evaluate and assess the validity of the information.”

“The companies that are working on that are gonna change how we fundamentally, as senior leaders, make decisions.”

Rear Admiral Lorin Selby

RADM Selby discussed the importance of fostering an AI innovation ecosystem.

As a leader who is positioned at the cross-section of government, academia and industry, Selby is optimistic about the utility of AI to help humans reach their potential, and the Navy achieve its goals.

He foresees a future where AI can “unburden the mind” from tedious bureaucratic work, “So we can actually focus on the things the human mind is really good at focusing on— which is kind of more strategic thinking, more abstract thinking.”

“This is a pivotal moment in history,” he said of AI and ML advancements. “I think we’ll look back on this time as a key transition phase in history.”

Selby said that building confidence in AI systems is essential to innovation, as is remaining anchored in the strength of human decision making.

“We have to develop trust,” he said, while emphasizing the need to keep humans in the loop of critical decisions.

Steve Escaravage

Steve Escaravage shared his insights on developing realistic approaches to deploying machine learning (ML) in federal environments.

Escaravage said that for advancements in ML, the private sector is leading, and the government has to follow. “The innovation is coming from outside—it’s coming from the private sector, from commercial use cases” he said. “For the public sector—for the government to be successful, we simply cannot ignore that investment and we need to channel that into the public sector.”

He said that although there has been real progress and momentum since 2017, there are pieces of the puzzle that are missing. Friction points include: access to real world data assets and data sets to train AI, approved computing environments that are configurable and scalable and systems with authorization to operate (ATO) accreditation. “We all have a responsibility as citizens of our governments to try to get them to better outcomes,” he remarked.

Expert Panel:

In addition to the fireside chats, Mark also led an expert panel discussion on The State of AI for National Security Mission Applications featuring Michael “Rabbi” Harasimowicz and Rachael Martin.

Martin said that she hopes that in the future, AI will be a seamless part of her agency’s workflow, and as commonplace, critical and functional as something like email. “The new warfighting demand is time,” she said. “When you have machine speed, you need to have trust and confidence that what the machine is telling you is correct.”

As the NGA relies on overhead imagery and data to compel decision-making, she said it’s important to have a systematic data workflow from input to warfighter. “We do think that AI and automation is really the best way of accomplishing that,” Martin said.

She added that she sees the time investment and the leadership investment in bringing AI to the mission space as heartening. “You have to change culture by getting people involved in the change,” she reflected.

Harasimowicz said that if our government doesn’t update its systems, the systems and the country are at risk. “Our national security challenges are really getting to the point where they're beyond human scale,” he said. “And I say that because the amount of data that is flowing in and around all of our domains is just insurmountable for just a commander.”

The level of support required to manage the data at a tactical and strategic level drives us to have a level of assistance, he said. “So artificial intelligence can provide that backdrop.”

“Our adversaries are challenging themselves in aggressive ways,” Harasimowicz said. “And we have to be as aggressive, if not more so aggressive…We have to go faster. We have to find ways to solve solutions in weeks, as opposed to years.”

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