HALIFAX, Canada — The Pentagon is moving out on implementing some of the suggestions of its all-star board of thought leaders in science and commercial tech, but the pace of change is still slow compared to the commercial sector, Google’s top executive said Saturday.
Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum, Eric Schmidt, chair of Google parent company Alphabet and head of the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, said the Defense Department is taking the board’s advice seriously and making progress — albeit not as quickly as he would like to see.
“I’m told that the Defense Department is moving at lightning speed on some of our recommendations,” he said. “So, good job. Their definition of lightning speed and my definition of lightning speed might not agree, but they’re working hard on it. We have a lot of support from [Defense Secretary] Gen. [Jim] Mattis and the team.”
Since Schmidt took over the Defense Innovation Advisory Board in 2016, the Alphabet exec has been vocal about the Pentagon’s need to rapidly adopt technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as create positions within the department to emphasize innovation.
While it’s been difficult to chart exactly how many of the board’s suggestions have been adopted by the Pentagon, Schmidt pointed to two areas as examples of progress. First, each of the U.S. military services is creating a working group that will interface with the advisory board, giving the services a closer tie to top leaders from Silicon Valley that could help influence how and what they acquire, he said.
Secondly, the Pentagon is intensifying its interest in automation, especially in terms of using automated systems to cut down on workload.
“I think it’s true of all of the governments and soldiers here — they spend an awful lot of time looking at things, and a lot of that can be automated. And that frees up the soldiers, airmen, so forth and so on to work on higher tasks,” he said.
Although Schmidt did not provide details about the board’s influence on how the military thinks about automation, the technology has become an increasingly hot topic over the past year.
For instance, the military has begun to use DevOps software development, which uses automation to help test code more rapidly, in programs such as the Air Force’s OCX effort — which will field new ground stations for next-generation GPS satellites — and the Air Operations Center’s Pathfinder project.
At the Defense News conference in September, Kenneth Bray, the Air Force’s acting associate deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said it will be critical for the service to incorporate automation and machine learning in order to enable analysts to make connections and identify threats more quickly.