DARPA invests big in its AI portfolio

DARPA invests big in its AI portfolio

The agency believes that contextual reasoning and adaptation capabilities will be the focus of AI’s third wave of technological advancement.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), headquartered in Arlington County, Va., will invest more than $2 billion in over 20 new and existing programs collectively called the “AI Next” campaign. Through AI Next, DARPA is exploring ways to advance the state-of-the-art in AI, pushing beyond second-wave machine learning techniques and toward “contextual reasoning and adaptation” capabilities, which the agency believes is the enabling factor for AI technological advancement.

More than 60 active DARPA programs are applying AI in some capacity, from agents collaborating to share electromagnetic spectrum bandwidth to detecting and patching cyber vulnerabilities. Over the next 12 months, DARPA plans to issue multiple Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) for new programs that advance the state of the art in AI. Multiple aerospace projects are expected.

Over its 60-year history, DARPA has played a leading role in the creation and advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that have produced game-changing capabilities for the Department of Defense. Starting in the 1960s, DARPA research shaped the first wave of AI technologies, which focused on handcrafted knowledge, or rule-based systems capable of narrowly defined tasks. While a critical step forward for the field, these systems were fragile and limited.

Starting in the 1990s, DARPA helped usher in a second wave of AI machine learning technologies that created statistical pattern recognizers from large amounts of data. The agency's funding of natural language understanding, problem solving, navigation and perception technologies has led to the creation of self-driving cars, personal assistants, and near-natural prosthetics, in addition to a myriad of critical and valuable military and commercial applications.

However, these second wave AI technologies are dependent on large amounts of high quality training data, do not adapt to changing conditions, offer limited performance guarantees, and are unable to provide users with explanations of their results.
 

Related: A new “AI Innovation Challenge” tasks United Kingdom (UK) and Canadian startups and researchers to pitch ideas for how AI could improve aircraft efficiency in extreme weather.
 

To address the limitations of these first and second wave AI technologies, DARPA seeks to explore new theories and applications that could make it possible for machines to adapt to changing situations. Agency director, Dr. Steven Walker, officially unveiled the large-scale effort during closing remarks today at DARPA’s D60 Symposium taking place Wednesday through Friday at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

“With AI Next, we are making multiple research investments aimed at transforming computers from specialized tools to partners in problem-solving,” says Dr. Walker. “Today, machines lack contextual reasoning capabilities, and their training must cover every eventuality, which is not only costly, but ultimately impossible. We want to explore how machines can acquire human-like communication and reasoning capabilities, with the ability to recognize new situations and environments and adapt to them.”

In addition to new and existing DARPA research, a key component of the campaign will be DARPA’s Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) program, first announced in July 2018.

AIE constitutes a series of high-risk, high-payoff projects where researchers will work to establish the feasibility of new AI concepts within 18 months of award. They will use streamlined contracting procedures and funding mechanisms to move from proposal to project kick-off within three months of an opportunity announcement.

 

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.

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