WASHINGTON --- Artificial intelligence is the new frontier, and the Defense Department must invest in this breakthrough or be in danger of not being competitive in the future, said Eric Schmidt, the chairman of the Defense Innovation Board, during a discussion at the Center for a New American Security today.
Schmidt, who also served as the chief executive officer of Google and parent company Alphabet, said of all the recommendations the board made, the most important was that DoD needs to catch up in AI.
He used vision as an example, saying that computers already can watch monotonous things for a long time and then notify a human if something out of the ordinary happens. Tests show, he said, that humans doing the same thing make errors a third of the time. Letting computers do this “seems like the simplest possible thing,” Schmidt said. “And yet, we have this whole tradition of the military standing watch … as if that is a good use of human being.”
AI will not be like humans; it will be different, he said. “The best uses of AI will be in the AI-human collaboration of one type or another,” Schmidt said.
He gave a synopsis for the AI problem for the military: “The military is very large and cumbersome. The military as a general rule doesn’t build things, it uses contractors.”
Contractors build what they are asked to build, and the military has not asked for AI systems, he said. “It takes five to 10 to 30 years to go from a spec to the delivery,” Schmidt said. “The core problem is how do you get the leaders, who passionately want to get this stuff done, to deliver these solutions quickly?”
DoD also must do more to draw in technologies from the private sector where the innovation is occurring today, Schmidt said. It is also important to attract the right innovators to the department.
The department leaders understand this need, he said. “The problem is everyone can understand something. But they cannot collectively act,” he said. “You have to come up with ways for them to come up with the resources and so forth. If were in a huge war with a major adversary, I’m sure the rules would be different. Right now, the planning procedures take too long.”
The military moving to cloud computing for its infrastructure will help, Schmidt said. The department is moving faster, “but I think it is not fast enough -- but I said that at Google, too,” he added.
Schmidt spoke about the Chinese AI program. Their AI strategy calls for the nation to have caught up with the U.S. by 2020 and to be better than the U.S. by 2025, and “by 2030 they will dominate the industry,” he said. “The government said that. Weren’t we the ones who invented this stuff? Weren’t we the ones who were going to exploit all this technology for the betterment of American exceptionalism?”
America must invest in research, Schmidt said. “America is the country that leads in these areas, there is every reason to believe that we can continue with this leadership.”