Director of Pentagon's Joint AI Center to step down this week

By Justin Doubleday / June 1, 2020 at 5:19 PM

Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, the founding director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, is stepping down this week ahead of his military retirement later this summer.

Shanahan took over as the first director of the JAIC shortly after it was established in 2018 to lead the Defense Department's development and deployment of AI capabilities. He had previously directed Project Maven, a Pentagon initiative to use artificial intelligence and machine learning for military intelligence purposes, such as processing, exploiting and disseminating drone footage.

JAIC spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson confirmed Shanahan's plans to step down this week. Nand Mulchandani, the JAIC's chief technology officer, will serve as "interim director" until a three-star officer is confirmed for the position, according to Abrahamson.

During his time as director, Shanahan oversaw the center's establishment of national mission initiatives, including predictive maintenance and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief. This year, Shanahan said the center's top priority is its "Joint Warfighting" initiative to develop AI and machine-learning tools specifically for battle functions, such as speeding up "sensor-to-shooter timelines" and calls for fire.

Shanahan also had to respond to Google dropping out of Project Maven due to employee concerns about developing technologies for war. Google's withdrawal from the project sparked concern that the U.S. technology sector would not work with the Pentagon on emerging technologies like AI and machine learning.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon adopted AI principles recommended by the Defense Innovation Board to address ethical concerns around using the technology for warfighting.

In a blog posted to the JAIC's website today, Shanahan thanked "our partners, across government, in the private sector, and academia, for your support."

"The JAIC's future success depends on these partnerships," he continued. "I am excited about the potential for them to expand significantly over the next year. The JAIC's vision is bold: to transform the DOD through AI. Yet it is only through boldness, alacrity, and partnerships with our partners that the JAIC can help shape the AI-enabled future of the Department of Defense. And do so in accordance with our core democratic values and the ideals embodied in the Constitution."

Mulchandani has served as the center's CTO since last June. He joined the Pentagon after spending most of his career in the private sector as "a serial entrepreneur and senior executive in the enterprise infrastructure and security software industries," according to his biography on the JAIC website.