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New Navy Intelligent Systems Consortium Links Field Experts and Research Opportunities

22 October 2020

From Rebecca Hoag, Naval Postgraduate School Office of University Communications

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) formed the Consortium for Intelligent Systems Education and Research (CISER) in order to provide innovative solutions and DOD-relevant answers to strategic problems involving Artificial Intelligence (AI). CISER consists of 60 NPS faculty members and is led by Distinguished Professor of Computer Science (CS) Dr. Peter Denning.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is recognized as a critical and decisive capability in future warfare and national defense. It is featured prominently as a technology that must be mastered by high-level strategic groups in the Department of Defense (DOD) and by the National Security Commission on AI. It creates far-reaching possibilities for disruptive innovation.

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) is the Navy and Marine Corps graduate school for science, math, engineering and technology (STEM). Because the challenge of using AI effectively in the military is multidisciplinary, NPS is an ideal environment for intelligent systems experts with military interests to congregate. 60 NPS faculty members, led by Distinguished Professor of Computer Science (CS) Dr. Peter Denning, recently formed the Consortium for Intelligent Systems Education and Research (CISER) to enable precisely that. CISER breaks down barriers to quick synthesis of innovative solutions and provides DOD-relevant answers to difficult strategic problems involving AI.

Through its support of online certificates, the consortium focuses its efforts on increasing fluency in AI and data science (DS) throughout the naval workforce. Through its support of research, the consortium focuses on research in challenges to AI and DS in cooperative research projects with industry in nearby Silicon Valley and elsewhere. The consortium also collaborates with the Navy’s Warfare Centers, all focusing on transitioning AI and DS technology into operational use.

CISER hosts Harnessing AI, a video course introducing AI and DS to the naval workforce. CISER supports the DOD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), which has designed an introduction to AI course for the DOD that includes portions of the Harnessing AI course.

“I think it’s imperative that NPS has a role here because we’re able to bring the operationally current students that we have together with the education that we offer in a secure environment to be able to deliver solutions to the Department of Defense that it needs,” said Dr. Rob Dell, acting provost and academic dean. Dell is a founding member of CISER’s board of advisors.

Avoiding Another AI Winter

Denning has witnessed the emergence and growth of the AI and DS fields since the 1960s. He recalls that early pioneers thought AI would be so advanced by the 2000s that humans wouldn’t be able to distinguish whether they were talking via computer screen with a human or a machine.

“The field gets very enthusiastic about the possibilities; they make big promises,” Denning explains. “The funding agencies came aboard with generous research funding, but after a while, when the promises weren’t delivered, the agencies get disillusioned and funding dries up. There have been two of these ‘AI winters’ since the birth of AI in the 1950s.”

Denning is worried that the current wave of enthusiasm about AI could lead to a third AI winter. With his retired colleague, Ted Lewis, he wrote an essay, Intelligence May Not Be Computable that sought to tamp down the hype and focus on the huge achievable benefits of AI. Denning and his CISER colleagues want to make sure that everyone talking about the fields understand what these systems can and can’t do; what they should be used for and what they shouldn’t. This way, research sponsors have realistic expectations.

“I hope that CISER can help clarify the function and role of artificial intelligence, especially in military decision making,” says Matt Carlyle, Operations Research (OR) Department Chair and CISER board member. “And getting past that veil, that sort of magical impression of AI, and having people understand practically what it does and what its benefits are and what its real dangers are. I think that advocacy is really important for CISER and I think it’s on the right path for doing that.”

Tackling Grand Challenges

Although the consortium is fairly new, it already supports three online certificate programs – one in AI for Military Use (set to begin in early 2021), one in DS for Military US (already running full cohorts twice a year), and one in Innovation and Design. With these certificates, many students are or will soon be in the position to help DOD in AI and DS.

CISER also plans to host a “provocative speaker series” where AI and DS experts present their ideas on those complex topics.

“We are now exposing each other to our research so that we can combine research efforts in a more holistic fashion to answer the call to numerous requirements that exist from DOD sponsors across all services,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ross Schuchard, Assistant Professor of OR and Technical Director of the Data Science Analytics Group (DSAG). He is also a CISER board member.

Schuchard said that bringing together AI and DS experts across DOD in a concerted effort will lead to a broadening of our knowledge base in these complex topics.

“The incorporation of successful AI and DS efforts through DOD requires a multidisciplinary effort rather than just individual lanes,” said Schuchard.

CISER plans to partner with industry to tackle some of DOD’s “grand challenges” relating to intelligent systems – challenges such as adversarial AI, trustworthy AI, the completely observable ocean, hidden underwater communications, analysis of threat and ethic responses, and mastering human-machine teaming. The consortium received seed funding from NPS to get started, and is looking for external financial support to start diving into these important issues for the DOD.


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