The US has world innovation leadership in Artificial Intelligence, according to the leader of the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Steven Walker: “I think I’d put our AI, our country’s efforts, up against anybody.” Walker was responding to concerns expressed by Eric Schmidt, CEO of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, that the US is loosing ground to Russia and China who could possibly overtake the US in new AI developments. China forecasts that it will have AI global leadership by 2030.
DARPA helped to create the AI sector in the early 1960’s. And, it has consistently funded three waves of AI.
The 1st wave applications follow simple logic rules and are used in consumer technology like tax preparation software. Walker described the current generation of AI as the 2nd wave which has led to innovations like autonomous cars. According to Walker, the issue is that the “systems are still very brittle and if you change the data they’re training on, they tend to fail. We have work to do, I think, in 2nd wave, in terms of making them more robust.”
The 3rd wave, that DARPA is significantly investing in, rely on contextual adaptation – having a computer or machine understand the context of the environment it’s working in and then be able to learn and adapt. A fascinating example: DARPA just completed its role in an autonomous ship project “Sea Hunter” which it just handed over to the Office of Naval Research. DARPA outfitted the ship with software and sensors to help it navigate without human oversight, while still abiding by maritime laws.
According to DARPA’s Walker, 3rd wave AI’s overall ability to understand its environment, learn and adapt “is going to be important if you want the warfighter to trust the machine and trust the answer the machine gives him or her to make a decision.” The implications of this cutting edge innovation for the military and US innovation leadership globally is very significant.