IARPA Director, Leading Program Scientists Tout “Human Machine Team”

On September 18, 2018, a new Defense One Breakfast Series opened with a high-level panel discussion on “the critical mission imperative of artificial intelligence.”  In a lively exchange, IARPA Director Stacey Dixon, former IBM Watson Director Rob High, ODNI Senior Scientist David Honey, and Senior Scientist Michael Wolmetz of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, each stressed the importance for national security of advancing United States Government initiatives in developing artificial intelligence (AI) to augment human analysis and intelligence collection.

Dr. High, formerly Director of IBM Watson and currently Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of IBM, pointedly argued that while demonstrating the capability of machines to beat human opponents at chess, IBM Watson had most significantly proven that a team combining human and machine capabilities will consistently defeat machines alone.

Although Dr. High and the other panelists more generally found the greatest potential for AI in combination with human capabilities, their examples focused on advances in machine capabilities such as facial recognition and human language processing.  On the whole, “The Human Machine Team” panel mostly hinted at the potential for machines to augment human performance, without much engaging timely issues of how human organizations must adapt to the dynamic implementation of rapidly emerging technologies.

Indeed, during the brief question-and-answer period at the close of the event, a working intelligence analyst challenged the panelists to consider whether the Intelligence Community itself is yet prepared for the generational influx of analysts who already enter the profession thoroughly adapted to the use of constantly improving technologies in every aspect of their lives.

As the first in what should be ongoing public discussions by prominent leaders of advanced research in the Intelligence Community, one can hope that the next DefenseOne Breakfast Series event will further develop how AI and other emerging technologies must transform and modernize the outmoded processes and legacy systems that still remain so widely in place across the executive branch.

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