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.