December 21, 2017

Project Maven brings AI to the fight against ISIS

By Gregory C. Allen

Maven is designed to be that pilot project, that pathfinder, that spark that kindles the flame front of artificial intelligence across the rest of the [DefenseDepartment.

- Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, November 2017

For years, the Defense Department’s most senior leadership has lamented the fact that US military and spy agencies, where artificial intelligence (AI) technology is concerned, lag far behind state-of-the-art commercial technology. Though US companies and universities lead the world in advanced AI research and commercialization, the US military still performs many activities in a style that would be familiar to the military of World War II.

As of this month, however, that has begun to change. Project Maven is a crash Defense Department program that was designed to deliver AI technologies—specifically, technologies that involve deep learning neural networks—to an active combat theater within six months from when the project received funding. Most defense acquisition programs take years or even decades to reach the battlefield, but technologies developed through Project Maven have already been successfully deployed in the fight against ISIS. Despite their rapid development and deployment, these technologies are getting strong praise from their military intelligence users. For the US national security community, Project Maven’s frankly incredible success foreshadows enormous opportunities ahead—as well as enormous organizational, ethical, and strategic challenges.

Read the full commentary in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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