What is this Blog about?

CNA launched the Center for Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence (CAAI) as a direct result of the rapid, even explosive, growth in AI in recent years. Recall that it was less than 2 years ago (in the spring of 2016) that Google’s DeepMind‘s AlphaGo Go-playing AI defeated multiple world-champion Go player Lee Sedol in a landmark event that – prior to the match, and given Go’s complexity compared to chess – most AI experts believed was years (perhaps decades) in the future. Now, consider the fact that as remarkable as AlphaGo’s defeat of Lee Sedol was, it arguably pales in comparison with the advances made to AlphaGo‘s learning algorithm in the months following that landmark match. A research paper received by the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Nature in April 2017 (and subsequently published online on 18 October 2017) announced that a new Go playing AI called AlphaGo Zero achieved superhuman performance, winning 100–0 against AlphaGo. Moreover, this new machine learning algorithm accomplished this by starting tabula rasa (i.e., entirely through self-play, without any human-based gaming knowledge or data) and did so in roughly 3 days (compared to the several-months-long training required by the original AlphaGo)!

How might AI evolve in the months and years ahead, and what are the military implications of this “technology”? While CAAI has been stood up to address this basic question (see the first batch of papers that the Center has published since its launch) and  research reports, and news of workshops, symposia, and other events will always appear on CAAI’s main website, this blog is envisioned as a more timely repository of “breaking news” as it pertains to AI, machine learning, and autonomy, and as a general forum for public discussion of ongoing projects. As such, it is also intended as a complement, of sorts, to another CAAI initiative, namely a weekly series of 20-30 min long podcasts (called AI-on-AI) that explore the latest breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and autonomy. Where the podcasts have only enough time to mention and outline a few of the “most interesting” news items that caught the ears and eyes of the editors in-between their recording sessions, this blog provides an opportunity to expand on one or more major stories, to provide additional background, and/or to link directly to original sources. This blog will also tap heavily into CNA’s repository of in-house experts on autonomy, AI, and drones; cyber security; defense technology; and other related areas.

All visitors to our blog are encouraged to participate in the discussion with their own news, comments, and speculations about how AI and autonomy might evolve.

CNA’s New Center for Autonomy and AI

In Oct 2017, CNA launched its new Center for Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence (CAAI), with Dr. Larry Lewis named as Director.

Throughout history, the ability to adapt technological advances to warfighting has led to fundamental changes in how war is conducted. Examples include the development of the crossbow, gunpowder-powered projectile weapons, rockets and jet aircraft, and precision guided munitions. Autonomy and AI represent revolutionary technologies that will change the future of warfare. They offer opportunities to the U.S. for countering and deterring emerging threats, addressing security challenges and advancing U.S. national interests.

But this opportunity is by no means certain, since autonomy also offers potential asymmetric advantages to peer-competitors, some of which have been pursuing these capabilities aggressively. Additionally, rapid innovation in the private sector—including commercial research and development efforts in autonomy and AI that dwarf that of the U.S. military—creates challenges for the U.S. to quickly identify and integrate cutting edge technological developments. Finally, there are potential dangers of this technology that should be guarded against, including potential unpredictability and the potential of civilian casualties in some operational contexts. Though much of the emerging technology is new, there are still many opportunities to avoid challenges and missteps that have been seen before, by learning from past lessons observed in U.S. operations and institutional processes.

Given the impact autonomy and AI will have on the character of warfare, CNA created CAAI (hereafter referred to as the “Center”) to focus on these emerging technologies and their contribution to national security. The Center capitalizes on the ability to leverage over 250 experienced researchers, many with advanced degrees and holding wide expertise and experience in a spectrum of disciplines, and connect them with government, private industry, and other stakeholders. The Center combines CNA’s strengths and experience in military operations with focused expertise in autonomy and AI. Its goal is to provide technical, strategic and operational insights and connect government and private stakeholders to make sure the U.S. is at the forefront in this rapidly evolving area.