WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities (ETC), held the inaugural subcommittee hearing of the 116th Congress. The hearing focused on artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives within the Department of Defense (DoD).

In her opening remarks, Chairman Ernst stated: “Our adversaries understand the critical importance of AI. Last year, the Chinese government released a strategy detailing its plan to take the lead in AI by 2030. Less than two months later, Vladimir Putin publicly announced Russia's intent to pursue AI technologies, stating, ‘Whoever becomes the leader in this field will rule the world.’  Both of these countries are investing heavily in military applications of AI to achieve a warfighting advantage.

“The United States is also investing heavily in AI applications. Over the last year, the Department has initiated several important efforts to accelerate the adoption of AI, including: the establishment of the Joint AI Center; the development of a DARPA ‘AI Next’ campaign; and, the release of the DoD AI Strategy. These efforts demonstrate the extent of the AI transformation already underway within the Department of Defense and the priority that is being placed on growing these capabilities.

“However, with these important efforts comes the challenge of coordinating hundreds of disparate AI efforts across multiple offices and organizations. I look to our witnesses to help the committee better understand how AI can be adopted more rapidly, how coordinating the initiatives already underway within Department can help us harness this powerful technology, and where we must invest in future research to ensure we maintain a long term advantage.”

Click here or on the image above to watch Chairman Ernst’s opening remarks.

Today’s subcommittee hearing witnesses included:

  • Mr. Michael Brown, Director of Defense Innovation Unit (DIU);
  • Dr. Peter Highnam, Deputy Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); and,
  • Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, Director, Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, DoD CIO.

The hearing also included a discussion on recent organizational changes, including the establishment of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) and the roles of university, defense labs, and industry in AI research and development strategy, coordination among DARPA, JAIC, and the Services, and workforce needs to support the AI Strategy. 

Chairman Ernst questioned the witnesses on the need for the U.S. to have a competitive advantage when it comes to AI, specifically asking if there needs to be particular investments in order to ensure this. In addition, Ernst asked about any challenges the United States is facing in attracting candidates and if our country is making use of the Reserve community when it comes to support for DoD AI activities.

Watch Chairman Ernst’s full questioning here.