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NPS Student, Professor Win 2021 USNI Information Warfare Essay Contest

15 February 2022

From Petty Officer 2nd Class Huy Tonthat, Naval Postgraduate School

MONTEREY, Calif. - U.S. Navy Cmdr. Edgar Jatho, a doctoral student in the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Department of Computer Science, and his advisor Assistant Professor Joshua A. Kroll have been named the winners of the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) 2021 Information Warfare Essay Contest for their piece, “Artificial Intelligence: Too Fragile to Fight?”

Jatho and Kroll will be honored this week at an awards ceremony during WEST 2022, a large naval conference and exposition in San Diego, Feb. 16-18. In addition, their award-winning essay has been published in the February issue of USNI’s Proceedings.

The essay cautions on the overreliance of AI and raises awareness of potential issues and exploits that can affect its effectiveness in the field. Jatho got the inspiration to write about the essay for the annual USNI contest while taking Kroll’s Trustworthy and Responsible AI course in 2020. 

“The course involved reading leading thinkers across disciplines about AI, automation and algorithms,” said Jatho. “It brought up the challenges and difficulties in implementing safe and ethical systems that leverage the technology … Now that we have this big impetus by the DOD to adopt artificial intelligence and machine learning into technology on all kinds of different levels and solutions, it’s easy for us to forget some hard-won lessons.”

In addition to his NPS coursework, Jatho was inspired by one of the presenters in NPS’ longstanding Secretary of the Navy Guest Lecture (SGL) series. During his October 2021 lecture on future of warfare, retired U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis cautioned how the military’s overreliance on advanced technology can leave it vulnerable to massive disruption.

“Dependence on a new technology like cyberspace, artificial intelligence or nanotechnology will enable you to move forward,” said Stavridis during the SGL. “But does it create an Achilles’ heel? Often it does.”

“Based on all of the research that I’ve been reading of what’s possible, it really got me to think,” continued Jatho. “[AI] can be a very complex and difficult problem because you can find support that says it’s doing a great job. Then suddenly when it gets to the battlefield, you find that it’s extraordinarily brittle and easy to break.”

Jatho credits the many resources at NPS supporting his education and research, and the opportunities to apply his studies, for his winning piece. Leading among them is Kroll, Jatho’s advisor and co-author of the essay.

“I’m quite proud that we in NPS can be in this position of thought leadership for the Navy and we can do the work to really think strategically,” said Kroll. “That’s something that I don’t think comes as naturally from other institutions that aren’t as focused on defense-oriented problems.”

As the winning essay, the USNI presents Jatho and Kroll’s cautions about AI as part of its mission to advance the professional, literary and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to global security.

It is critical for NPS faculty and students to contribute their work to these kinds of leading venues, Kroll says, that collect and distribute these ideas to the naval and defense community.

“They’re a trusted voice in this DOD community,” he says, “and I hope we can have an impact with how people can make our naval capabilities support the execution of the mission in a more robust and trustworthy way.”

Jatho continues the pursuit of a Ph.D. in Computer Science at NPS, and is slated to teach at the Naval Academy following graduation as part of the Permanent Military Professor program.

 

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