DARPA Will Invest $2 Billion in AI to Benefit Pentagon

The new artificial intelligence initiative, dubbed “AI Next,” will focus on the next wave of cognitive technologies.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency had a hand in funding the forerunner to Apple’s Siri, so it is not surprising that the Defense Department’s research arm is as interested in developing the future of artificial intelligence as any other entity. 

Earlier this month at its D60 Symposium, DARPA announced that it plans to invest more than $2 billion in a multiyear campaign called “AI Next,” which will include new and existing programs. DARPA wants to use the funds to pursue the next wave of AI technologies, focused on contextual adaptation. Over the next 12 months, DARPA plans to issue multiple broad agency announcements for new programs that advance the state of the art in AI, the agency says.

“With AI Next, we are making multiple research investments aimed at transforming computers from specialized tools to partners in problem-solving,” DARPA Director Steven Walker says in a statement. 

“Today, machines lack contextual reasoning capabilities, and their training must cover every eventuality, which is not only costly, but ultimately impossible,” Walker continues. “We want to explore how machines can acquire human-like communication and reasoning capabilities, with the ability to recognize new situations and environments and adapt to them.”

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DARPA Envisions the Next Chapter of AI

AI is nothing new for DARPA, which is currently pursuing more than 20 programs that are exploring how to advance artificial intelligence, pushing beyond second-wave machine learning techniques toward contextual reasoning capabilities.

The agency also has more than 60 active programs that are using AI in some capacity, from agents collaborating to share electromagnetic spectrum bandwidth to detecting and patching cybersecurity vulnerabilities. 

Under AI Next, key areas DARPA may explore including automating critical Defense Department business processes. For example, DARPA imagines a world in which the Pentagon uses AI to vet security clearances in a week or accredit software systems for operational deployment in a single day.

DARPA also wants to focus on improving the robustness and reliability of AI systems; enhancing the security and resiliency of machine learning and AI technologies; reducing power, data, and performance inefficiencies; and pioneering the next generation of AI algorithms and applications, such as “explainability” and common-sense reasoning.

“DARPA envisions a future in which machines are more than just tools that execute human-programmed rules or generalize from human-curated data sets,” the agency says on its AI Next website. 

Instead, the next wave of AI will “function more as colleagues than as tools,” and DARPA wants to research how humans can partner with machines. 

“Enabling computing systems in this manner is of critical importance because sensor, information, and communication systems generate data at rates beyond which humans can assimilate, understand, and act,” the site says. “Incorporating these technologies in military systems that collaborate with warfighters will facilitate better decisions in complex, time-critical, battlefield environments; enable a shared understanding of massive, incomplete, and contradictory information; and empower unmanned systems to perform critical missions safely and with high degrees of autonomy.”

DARPA says it wants to make AI performance more reliable, particularly at the tactical edge, where reliable performance is required. Additionally, DARPA warns to make machine learning tools more resilient and less able to be corrupted or fooled via changes to data inputs. 

DARPA will also research AI-specific hardware designs and ways to dramatically reduce the computing requirements for labeled training data. And DARPA will throw money into developing “the next generation of AI algorithms, which will transform computers from tools into problem-solving partners. DARPA research aims to enable AI systems to explain their actions, and to acquire and reason with common sense knowledge.”

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Sep 25 2018