Mulchandani takes over the management of the US Joint AI Intelligence Center20. July 2020
Mulchandani takes over the management of the US Joint AI Intelligence Center
Following a change in AI leadership at the US Department of Defense, Nand Mulchandani, who had previously been Chief Technology Officer of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, was appointed Acting Director on June 1. He replaces the founding director of JAIC, Lieutenant General Jack “Shanahan, who had resigned from this post.
Shanahan, a three-star Air Force General, praised Mulchandani for bringing innovative ideas from Silicon Valley to the Ministry of Defence. According to a FedScope report, Mulchandani joined the JAIC in 2019 after more than 25 years as a senior executive in security software and enterprise infrastructure companies.
At his first briefing on July 8, Mulchandani focused on the Silicon Valley military divide, according to media reports. He referred to the coverage of “Project Maven”. In 2018 it had led to protests by employees at Google. They refused to extend the contract.
The new JAIC boss assumed that such incidents would occur again and again. But they would not prevent the Ministry of Defence from continuing to do business with large technology companies. “They are free to do business with us on projects ranging from bending the cost curve to fighting systems,” joked Mulchandani.
The “Maven Project”, also known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team, was launched in April 2017. The Pentagon announced at the time that one of its goals was to “help military and civilian analysts to quickly evaluate the vast amount of video data that DoD collects daily to support counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The Pentagon plans to install the first algorithms in these warfighting systems by the end of 2017. The system should also help to identify objects such as people and cars.
According to some media reports, Google provided the DoD with TensorFlow APIs that enable military analysts to identify specific objects in images. However, Google then decided not to renew its Project Maven contract in June 2018.
China leads the way in surveillance technology
During the meeting Mulchandani was asked whether China had taken a lead in the AI over the USA. Mulchandani conceded that China has a lead in some areas. “China’s military and police authorities undoubtedly have the most advanced capabilities in the world,” the JAIC chief emphasized. These include: unregulated facial recognition for universal surveillance and control of their native population, trained on Chinese videos; and “Chinese language text analysis for internet and media censorship.
Mulchandani noted that the development of equivalent surveillance systems was not in line with US standards. Therefore, the DoD will not pursue this development further. “Our constitutional and privacy laws protect the rights of US citizens and how their data is collected and used,” he said. “Therefore, we simply do not invest in the establishment of such universal surveillance and censorship systems.”
DoD- Technology positions vacant
Elsewhere in DoD’s technology leadership, two high-ranking officials recently resigned: Michael Griffin, Undersecretary of State for Defence in Research and Technology, and his deputy Lisa Porter. The two were top proponents of an increase in defence research funding, and their move away from finalising budget proposals for the 2022 fiscal year could signal a change.
“The National Defense Strategy focuses on cutting-edge technology. And, at least initially, we’ve seen that this priority is reflected in DOD’s budget requests,” said Morgan Dwyer, an international security officer at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He fears that the loss of the department’s top supporters could mean a decline in research funding.
With the Department of Defense finalizing its budget proposal in the coming months, the new technology will not have strong Senate-approved supporters. “Without that kind of leadership, I don’t think it’s likely that the [research] budget will have the same priority as when it was led by Senate-approved officials,” Dwyer said.
The Department of Defense has not yet announced how the positions of Griffin and Porter will be filled.
One approach to filling vacant DoD technology positions could be a public-private swap, suggested Brian Drake, AI Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology during a panel at a recent GovExec virtual event. “We already have these programs, known as public-private swaps,” Drake said. But the challenge, he said, is that these top people accept non-technical government employees as bosses.
To give everyone an idea of how this works in such teams, Drake described a typical situation. He introduced the future employee to the government employee as follows: “He will be highly motivated, wants to change a lot, and is eager to learn. Can you help him with his python scripts? No’? Can you at least help him to build a robust data model? No. Okay, maybe it depends on who we have. “