COVID-19 NEWS: Joint AI Center Accelerating Work Despite Pandemic

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

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The COVID-19 pandemic is causing delays and disruptions across the Pentagon, but has so far had minimal negative effects on the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, which is aiding the military response, said the head of the organization May 29.

“Surprisingly, we've been far more effective than I would have ever anticipated two-and a-half months ago when this all started,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan. Currently, about 90 percent of the organization’s staff is working remotely.

“It turns out we've actually accomplished more in the last two months than I think [we] accomplished in the previous six months because everybody is so focused on the problems at hand,” he said during an online event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

One reason the center has been able to plow ahead despite the virus is because much of the work that has been done so far is unclassified. “It didn't affect us much without having access to all the different classified systems,” he said.

To help combat the virus, the organization has been working on an effort called Project Salus, which was named after the Roman goddess of health, welfare, safety and well-being..

“What we wanted to do is offer help in terms of ... COVID-19 modeling, supply chain/supply demand risk analysis and do real predictive analytics,” Shanahan said.

The JAIC has collected data from over 75 different sources including government, commercial and open source, he added.

“Now there are policy and legal reviews that have to happen with all that data,” he said. “But just getting our arms around that took ... about the first month" even though it was an expedited effort.

A number of vendors both big and small are working on Project Salus and helping the JAIC with predictive analytics, he added.

The main beneficiary of the effort will be U.S. Northern Command and various state National Guard forces, he said. It is intended to help them make future resources allocations as they battle COVID-19. The goal is to "give them a sufficiently high probability determinations that allow [them] to make some of those decisions in advance."

So far, the center has built more than 40 models under Project Salus that are in different stages of development.

“We're sharing those with our customer — the United States Northern Command and the National Guard — and we're getting very good feedback,” Shanahan said.

Meanwhile, Shanahan noted that 2020 and 2021 will be a landmark time period for the JAIC — which was established in 2018 — as it delivers a number of products to its military customers.

“2020 to 2021 should be a breakout year for the department,” he said. “We have to deliver.”

The hope is that combatant commanders in the future will come forward and request additional assistance from the center to meet their requirements, Shanahan said.

Shanahan — who will soon be retiring from the Air Force — said someday there may no longer be a need for the JAIC because artificial intelligence will be ubiquitous throughout the military.


Topics: Cyber

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