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US Military Preparing for Digital Arms Race

2017-09-13

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[00:00.00]
  • In the controlled environment of the United States military, the big room with shiny white paint stands out.
  • [00:09.35]
  • The room has computer work stations, overhead projectors and a digital clock that shows the current time in cities around the world.
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  • But what captures the attention of many visitors are the walls.
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  • They are covered from top to bottom with questions, mathematical notations, pictures and ideas.
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  • These markings represent the best thinking of some of the greatest minds in the military.
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  • "There are precious few places in this building where you can write on a wall," said Albert Bolden.
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  • His claim is not too surprising since this area, the Innovation Hub or iHUB, is part of a military base.
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  • Bolden is director of innovation at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
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  • "People from across the agency can come into this space and figure out how to solve our problems," he said.
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  • This might seem like a feel-good story of military structure mixing with Silicon Valley creativity to make life easier with technology.
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  • But it is about much more.
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  • Marine Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart has served as the DIA’s director.
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  • He said, “The fight for remaining relevant in this digital age is what keeps me awake."
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  • Stewart made clear that it is, in many ways, an arms race.
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  • "Our adversaries have been modernizing," he warned, speaking to a small group of reporters and others at the iHUB in August.
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  • The agency had invited business representatives and academic experts there for a series of what were called Industry Days.
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  • Such meetings between top thinkers at the DIA and those outside of government are an important part of iHUB’s planning.
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  • U.S. officials want to know if commercial technologies could help solve problems that agency experts have identified.
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  • One company seeking to be part of this effort is a Texas-based start-up business called SparkCognition.
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  • It specializes in artificial intelligence: making computers perform work that normally requires human intelligence.
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  • The U.S. Air Forces has already shown an interest in SparkCognition.
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  • Also, large companies like Verizon and Boeing are now investing more than $30 million in the small start-up's neural network effort.
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  • It is designed to copy the operations of a human brain in order to predict results.
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  • "What we've done is automate that research that a data scientist would do," said SparkCognition's Sam Septembre.
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  • Instead of taking weeks or days, however, Septembre said his company's systems can provide results in hours or even minutes.
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  • SparkCognition says its platforms already have succeeded in predicting some major world events, although the test cases still leave room for improvement.
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  • "The human factor got involved and skewed it," said Timothy Stefanick, director of business operations at the company.
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  • He explained that some predictions were found to be wrong after human experts did not trust the results from the artificial intelligence.
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  • Another company seeking to work with the DIA is Percipient.ai.
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  • It is exploring how to make artificial intelligence useful in video work.
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  • "This is a kind of capability that helps you get into productive analytics and helps you protect forces," said company cofounder Balan Ayyar.
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  • "You can check any person in any video," he said.
  • [05:17.58]
  • Ayyar is a retired Air Force Brigadier General. He and fellow Percipient.ai co-founder Raj Shah say their platform can save experts considerable time.
  • [05:33.30]
  • For example, the AI could quickly search for terror suspects in hundreds of hours of video from a terror attack.
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  • Even mobile phones could be used to follow possible threats, programmed to shake if a person of interest turns up in a "selfie."
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  • "With this kind of system, the [terror] watch list could be much, much bigger," said Shah, who formerly was chief of Google Maps.
  • [06:05.58]
  • Ayyar and Shah say Percipient.ai's systems can already identify suspicious activity or equipment.
  • [06:16.57]
  • For DIA, the early results have been promising.
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  • "We've seen examples when machines are able to provide insights to the analysts that they haven't had," said Randy Soper, a DIA expert on analytics modernization.
  • [06:38.13]
  • To speed up the process, DIA even provides money — up to about $250,000 — to projects that have shown the most promise.
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  • Two have already been approved.
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  • Four others are on a list to receive money as soon as it is available.
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  • More projects could soon be added. DIA's Innovation Hub continues considering proposals from industry and academia.
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  • But the success in reaching out to industry and universities also has brought some changes to the program.
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  • On August 22, the DIA opened up a new Innovation Hub.
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  • At first look, it is smooth and modern: a line of computers screens and a digital world clock.
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  • A large conference table is the center of the room.
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  • But, much of the room is covered in that white, shiny paint.
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  • "You can still write on the walls," said one official.
  • [08:00.78]
  • I’m Caty Weaver.
  • [08:02.68]
  • And I'm Jonathan Evans.
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