US Air Force and MIT commission a lead AI pilot for their innovative project

The project, known as DAF-MIT AI Accelerator, selected a pilot out of over 1,400 applicants.
Brittney Grimes
U.S. Air Force soldier.
U.S. Air Force soldier.

CatLane/iStock 

The United States Air Force (DAF) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) commissioned their lead AI pilot — a training program that uses artificial intelligence — in October 2022. The project utilizes the expertise at MIT and the Department of Air Force to research the potential of applying AI algorithms to advance the DAF and security.

The military department and the university created an artificial intelligence project called the Department of the Air Force-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Accelerator (DAF-MIT AI Accelerator).

The project and the pilot

A prototype of the project was signed with an executive order in 2019, and it had various strategies put into place in 2020. The collective team, known as the DAF-MIT AI Accelerator, commissioned their lead AI pilot last month. The pilot is the study the DAF Artificial Intelligence Accelerator (AIA) is doing to test out a course for teaching AI. “In this pilot, [the cohort] will gain a practical grounding in AI and its business applications helping you transform your organizations into the workforce of the future,” said Major John Radovan, deputy director of the AIA.

Process to select the lead AI pilot

The DAF-MIT AI Accelerator team selected a pilot out of over 1,400 applicants. In total, 200 participants were selected to create a diverse group across DAF and other U.S. government organizations. Colonel Garry Floyd, the director of DAF Artificial Intelligence Accelerator (AIA), said, “AI is in and is coming to the battle space. The question is what are we bringing and what is the pacing threat bringing?” Floyd continued, “as you learn about the capabilities and limitations of AI, please know that your AI Accelerator team here is working to make AI perform even better for the DAF’s use cases through our various lines of efforts.”

Background on the initiative

The strategy was part of the American AI Initiative that was signed by President Biden in the United States in Feb. 2019. “Continued American leadership in Artificial Intelligence is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States,” Biden said in a statement.

In 2020, the AI Accelerator initiated 10 comprehensive projects that involved the U.S. Air Force and MIT. These strategies were launched as three-year projects and incorporated advance AI research, such as autonomy for augmenting and weather modeling. In other words, these studies were looking for ways to enhance and compliment human intelligence using AI, to improve performance.

Air Force and MIT collaboration

The DAF and MIT combined to jointly work on the Artificial Intelligence Accelerator. “This collaboration is very much in line with MIT’s core value of service to the nation,” said Maria Zuber, vice president of research at MIT and the E.A. Griswold professor of Geophysics.

The project focuses on applying innovative AI prototypes and preparing for future military operations using AI.

US Air Force and MIT commission a lead AI pilot for their innovative project
The Department of the Air Force-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Accelerator logo.

The U.S. Air Force officers joined MIT researchers to collaborate on these efforts and learn how to apply AI to military procedures. The objective was to create essential developments in AI research. “MIT researchers who choose to participate will bring state-of-the-art expertise in AI to advance Air Force mission areas and help train Air Force personnel in applications of AI,” Zuber stated.

Building a world-class AI workforce

The AIA’s research team assessed different challenges of educating, cultivating and growing the “world-class AI workforce” while also supporting the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) AI Education Strategy. The DOD does this by using the large amounts of data available and incorporating data-driven technology. The organization wants to expand upon building a workforce that thrives in a digital age through accelerated adoption, or to keep up with the ever-changing pace of AI advances.

Challenges

The AIA education team has confronted the challenge of educating the entire DAF workforce on AI and its usages. Previously the AI education occurred in conventional educational settings, but the team made changes to that setup and now the team is teaching AI to personnel of various ranks.

“The team is investigating the process of teaching AI and machine learning capabilities to Airmen and Guardians of various rank and responsibility levels - from senior leaders, to developers and acquirers, and to operators who directly use AI-enabled capabilities,” The DAF-MIT AI Accelerator research team stated.

Strategies

The research team used different methods to figure out which would work best, using the DOD AI Education strategy as the main approach and plan. They considered several variables such as pedagogy — a specific method used to teach the concept — and curriculum, along with learning platforms for the six archetypes — target audience — mentioned in the AI strategy. These archetypes are placed into three categories: leaders, developers and users.

The current pilot is geared towards senior leaders. “The courses will provide a roadmap for the strategic implementation of AI technologies from the leadership context. We hope that you’ll be able to harness key AI management and leadership insights to support informed, strategic decision making,” said Radovan.

The project is a step forward in incorporating artificial intelligence into the military, not to necessarily fight, but to enhance human intelligence with AI.

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