Schmidt departs as chairman of Defense Innovation Board

By Justin Doubleday / September 15, 2020 at 4:37 PM

Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google, has stepped down as the first chairman of the Defense Innovation Board, with former Sierra Nevada executive Mark Sirangelo taking over as head of the influential panel.

Sirangelo announced the news during the board’s virtual meeting today. He said Schmidt and several others were coming to the end of their four-year terms on the board.

Schmidt "has led as the first chairman of this board, helped form it, helped organize it, helped really set the tone for what we’re doing and how we’re moving forward," Sirangelo said.

Schmidt served as chairman of the board since it was established in 2016 by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

"When we started this four years ago, I had no idea the DIB would be as impactful or as successful has it has come to be," Schmidt said today. "I figured that we would make recommendations and that nobody would particularly listen."

Schmidt noted how the board's recommendations have led to the creation of the Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, the shift to an emphasis on agile software development within the Defense Department, and the adoption of AI ethical principles for the military, among other developments.

And while the Pentagon's relationship with the commercial technology sector has been rocky at times, Schmidt and the board have served as one of the Pentagon's main lifelines into Silicon Valley.

"We adopted more of a contact sport view and what we did is we developed relationships within the DOD with key decision makers, and we said we serve you," Schmidt said.

Schmidt also leads the congressionally established National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.

Meanwhile, Sirangelo has served on the DIB since 2018. Most recently, he served as head of Sierra Nevada's Space Systems division. He was the former chairman and chief executive of SpaceDev prior to its merging with Sierra Nevada. Sirangelo is currently "entrepreneur scholar-in-residence" at the University of Colorado.

Sirangelo also leads the innovation board's new Space Advisory Committee, which he said was established in May at the direction of Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist.

Michael Kratsios, the acting under secretary of defense for research and engineering, also addressed today's DIB meeting. Kratios, who also serves as chief technology officer at the White House, specifically praised the board's work to develop AI ethics recommendations

"When I'm starting to think a little bit with [Sirangelo] about the types of projects the DIB can work on in the coming years, that one is front and center in my mind," Kratsios said. "What can the board offer the Defense Department that the Defense Department itself can’t do on its own? That was a huge, successful example, and it's making waves globally."

Sirangelo said he would be meeting with Kratsios to discuss the board's agenda for the coming year.

In addition to Schmidt, several other members are coming to the end of their four-year terms this year, according to Sirangelo. They include Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Jen Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America; Adam Grant, professor at the Wharton School of Business; Marne Levine, vice president of global partnerships and business development at Facebook; LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman; and Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute.

Meanwhile, Stanford University's Drew Endy, president of BioBricks Foundation, recently joined the board.