Hicks: One year in, AI adoption initiative 'proving its worth'

By Briana Reilly / June 8, 2022 at 3:06 PM

One year into the Pentagon's artificial intelligence and data accelerator initiative, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks says the effort is already "proving its worth."

While it’s unclear what will happen to the three-year push after fiscal year 2024, Hicks told an online audience during DOD’s Digital and AI Symposium today that in the interim, ADA has already allowed officials to identify common problems faced by the combatant commands in integrating and scaling AI capabilities.

In that same vein, Hicks added, officials have also been able to identify “common solution approaches” to the initiative launched last summer as part of the military’s approach to enabling Joint All-Domain Command and Control.

“Because we’re at the enterprise level at ADA, that’s kind of the beauty of the federated approach,” she continued. “We have this centralized repository of knowledge and expertise and data and tools and contract vehicles and folks who understand how to use contract vehicles for this purpose. And then these problem sets can come in and we can tailor, if you will, more easily and get solutions out faster. I think that’s what we’ve seen to date.”

Through ADA, DOD has been sending technical AI expert teams to the COCOMs as one of its initial steps, the former acting Pentagon chief information officer, Kelly Fletcher, previously said. Hicks noted today that COVID-19 has complicated that recently.

Regardless, she said that the department has witnessed “a lot of natural-use cases [and] questions that combatant commanders really want help answering, and the ability to apply answers through ADA.”

ADA is poised to represent “a flagship achievement” for the chief data and artificial intelligence officer, in the words of DOD CIO John Sherman, who spoke separately during the symposium today.

The newly stood-up CDAO, which consolidates the military’s data and AI efforts in an attempt to provide better alignment for the Pentagon, will be able to “surface up certain trends, certain enterprise-level activities and needs that will transcend the commands” through ADA, Sherman said.

As the department prepares to move beyond ADA in two years and explore what that “next natural evolution” might be, Hicks stressed the importance of being “very unafraid to shift approaches, as the stand-up of the CDAO itself shows, and make sure we are ahead of the curve, not chasing a curve by being committed to either particular initiatives and/or to organizational constructs.”

“I think anything that would follow it, whether it’s called ADA or something else, naturally will build on what we do here,” she added.