Behind the Pentagon's $10 billion cloud push are big plans for data and AI
- By Lauren C. Williams
- Dec 12, 2018
The Pentagon's top tech official told Congress that the push for enterprise cloud isn't for the sake of modernization or convenience – it is to leverage artificial intelligence and big data.
"The reason why I've been so vocal and energized about wanting to get to an energized cloud capability is I want to provide the Department of Defense with a way to handle that unlimited compute capacity, unlimited storage, on demand as needed with high integrity," CIO Dana Deasy said at a Dec. 11 hearing of the House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.
The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) will be tasked with determining the "rules of the road" for data, which will also be one of its biggest stumbling blocks, Deasy said. JAIC is responsible for unifying DOD's AI efforts and will need to standardize and "technically describe what we need to do to ingest the data," as well as determine what new tools are needed as systems develop.
"The enterprise cloud is going to become the foundation for which all the data and all that compute are going to reside on top of and those algorithms will use," he said.
Deasy's dwelled on DOD's need for enterprise cloud solutions in his testimony without once mentioning an ongoing $10 billion cloud procurement by name.
The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, dubbed JEDI, is the subject of ongoing criticism and protest by some in industry and is currently the topic of a lawsuit brought by Oracle in the Court of Federal Claims.
But DOD isn't looking for "a centralized single, repository," Deasy said. Instead, the department is moving toward a "decentralized world" where the warfighter at the tactical edge can "work in a compromised, degraded mode...a cloud that can handle the edge all the way to clouds that can handle the central."
JAIC and the AI workforce
Subcommittee Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said she was "deeply concerned" about the U.S. lagging behind in AI.
Dr. Lisa Porter, DOD's undersecretary for research and development, said that while the U.S. is still ahead, "we are in danger of losing that position." She cited talent and workforce issues as key factors.
JAIC is expected to help with workforce issues and have locations across the nation.
Deasy said the organization is in the process of looking for "academic environments" to house mini-JAIC incubators in addition to a Washington, D.C., location to help stimulate recruitment. As another recruitment tactic, JAIC will team up skilled service members with data scientists.
"How we're recruiting people is a combination of commercial contacts, academia contacts, think tank contacts," and a list of people under review to add to the center, he said.
That may not be enough, however. Deasy also said DOD might have to create something akin to the Cyber Excepted Service to fast-track employees to AI positions.
Other than shaping data policy, JAIC is working with Cyber Command to use artificial intelligence for pattern recognition of hackers' signatures and data for network defense to prevent exfiltration, Deasy said.
He said JAIC, which was created in June, hasn't yet been used to access publicly available data because it's only a few months old, but promised there will be future programs to incorporate such information.
Future uses being explored include electronic warfare, such as detecting when the electronic spectrum has been compromised, and use while sharing data in classified spaces.
Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.
Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.
Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.
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