In December, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks made waves when she issued a memo announcing the creation of a new key role that would report directly to her: the chief digital and artificial intelligence officer.
The individual selected for the position — which was slated to become effective Feb. 1 — will oversee three critical Pentagon offices: the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Office of the Chief Data Officer and Defense Digital Service. As of press time, the Pentagon had not announced who had been chosen for the role.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, former head of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said the creation of the position is a natural evolution for the Defense Department.
“This is the next important step of three different organizations that have been working toward similar ends, but not always aligned as closely as they could have been,” he said. “Not only are the three organizations interrelated, they are intertwined in that they all deal with the same big problems the department has with software, with data, with AI, with emerging technologies.”
Shanahan — who retired from the Air Force in 2020 and is now an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security — said there is an opportunity to create fewer administrative burdens within the Pentagon, especially for Hicks who had three disparate organizations reporting to her.
The individual who is selected will have the opportunity to make an enormous difference for the department, he added.
“It’s never about one person, but the person who they select will have to have the trust and confidence of not just the deputy, but the secretary of defense, the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], the vice chairman, the services and the combatant commands,” Shanahan said. “It’s a really important decision.”
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