NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — DARPA plans to put expanded emphasis and investment into the quest to ensure U.S. superiority in artificial intelligence, pouring up to $2 billion over the next five years toward developing machines that can learn and adapt to changing environments.
Director Steven Walker made the announcement Friday at the conclusion of DARPA’s three-day conference marking its 60th birthday. He said the strengthened focus on artificial intelligence — commonly called AI — is called AI-NEXT and will bolster efforts to reach a third wave of AL that focuses on contextual reasoning.
Contextual reasoning is often described as when machines can acquire human-like communication and reasoning capabilities.
DARPA stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It is the Pentagon’s research and innovative wing.
“We are setting a course for our future, our country’s future,” Walker said Friday in remarks to close the three-day event. “This community knows exactly where it needs to go and to accomplish next.”
AI joins hypersonics as Walker’s top priorities at DARPA, he reminded the audience. There are concerns that China has outpaced the U.S. in AI gains, as Beijing has invested heavily in the area.
Walker said that 80 of roughly 250 programs underway at DARPA involve some form of AI, and that 25 of those programs are on track to create new technology.
This week’s event showcased DARPA’s achievements over the years as well as focused on developing and future projects, ranging from X-planes and sensors, neurotechnology and robotics, and time as a weapon.
The agency’s esprit du corps was pumped by music piped through the conference, including the closing song by Rod Stewart, “Can’t Stop Me Now.”
Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Dr. Michael D. Griffin, who overseas DARPA from within the Pentagon, said DARPA’ s record is even more outstanding given the anti-intellectual bent of most Americans.
“I’ve watched this country [go from] celebrating excellence to celebrating averageness and that is not a good trend,” Walker said. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
For example, he noted how people are “mystified” when it is explained to them how something like GPS is required to use an ATM machine. “People want to be average; the culture drives us to that,” Walker said. “There are many, many more examples.”
Walker said he was buoyed by the young rising stars DARPA showcased at the event and told them not to fret about moving ahead in their careers. “There is a huge shortage of IQ out there and if you are good at what you do, trust me, you will be promoted,” he said.
He warned that time is running out for the slow and haphazard way the U.S. approachs science and technology research and development, adding that “the one thing China hopes we never do is change our acquisition system.
“We have to be out there on the playing field competing, run faster and play smarter,” Walker said. “We can’t allow ourselves to lose that competition.”