The intelligence community officials say they are turning to the private sector to make advances in artificial intelligence deemed necessary to out-compete China and other adversarial nations.
The Chinese Communist Party has utilized state-led industrial policies, such as its Made in China 2025 plan, to pursue a technological edge over the U.S. in artificial intelligence (AI). By contrast, the U.S. is seeking to benefit from the innovation produced by the private sector that is incentivized by an open market.
The federal government has served as the primary creator and lead innovator in several technological fields but needs to be a ‘fast follower’ of industry in artificial intelligence, Neal Higgins, the CIA associate deputy director of digital innovation, said at an event hosted by The Cipher Brief.
“We need to partner with industry to identify the innovation that’s occurring in the private sector and put ourselves in a position where we can identify those best-agreed, commercially available solutions that are already out there and bring them into our ecosystem as quickly as possible,” he said. “At CIA, we have opened unclassified facilities in Silicon Valley and Northern Virginia-Dulles corridor where we can go out and meet with companies with a focus on [artificial intelligence-machine learning] in an unclassified environment, removing some of the hurdles to working with the [intelligence community].”
The CIA also is trying to leverage its outposts in Northern Virginia and Silicon Valley amid the agency’s migration to cloud computing to capitalize on the private sector’s ingenuity, he said.
Mr. Higgins’ directorate at CIA is the agency’s newest directorate, having formed in 2015. The intelligence community has taken new steps in recent years to accelerate tech transfer between the government and private sector.
Last September, the CIA announced it formed its first federal lab that would give officers the ability to get patents and licenses for the products they create. Earlier this year, the intelligence community’s strategic investor, In-Q-Tel, created a new program to make the intelligence community’s products commercially available.
Mr. Higgins said China has made ‘large strides’ in artificial intelligence enhanced by fewer restrictions on its actions but argued that the U.S. is “staying ahead of all of our international partners and competitors” in the AI realm.
At the event, the National Security Agency’s Jason Wang noted that the global competition against China in artificial intelligence was not yet dire but “very dynamic” and said the government needed to take action to ensure it was not left behind.
“We are still young in this as an enterprise, and really where we are looking next is how we can drive effective human-machine teaming,” said Mr. Wang.
The problem of human-machine teaming refers to the challenge of having personnel capable and authorized to analyze the overwhelming flow of information collected by the intelligence community.
The federal government is awash in data and it risks becoming a tidal wave too large to handle, according to Rachael Martin, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency director of artificial intelligence, automation & augmentation.
“We are rapidly approaching the point where asking for more information does nothing because we can barely manage to process the information that we have,” she said at the event. “So for us, AI isn’t something that we need to do, it’s something that we have to do if we’re going to be able to meet mission in the future and hold adversaries at risk.”
Ms. Martin said America will be successful in winning the race for dominance in artificial intelligence if “nobody cares about AI” in the coming decades.
“AI, I hope, in 10 or 15 years should be like electricity, right?” Ms. Martin said. “It’s something that we all know, we all have it, we use it. Well, we’re not really worried about it because we know it works and we know we have access to it, and we understand how it gets to our building.”
Once people get comfortable with AI all around them akin to electricity powering the world around them, then the U.S. has achieved a successful AI strategy, according to Ms. Martin.
Congress created the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence to help chart a successful AI strategy for the nation in a 2018 defense bill. The commission, chaired by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, published a final report earlier this year urging U.S. leaders to spend billions of taxpayer dollars prioritizing AI innovation now lest the government risk falling behind China.