What the GAO found
The Department of Defense (DOD) is actively researching artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. AI refers to computer systems designed to replicate a range of human functions and continually improve in the tasks assigned to them. The GAO has previously identified three waves or types of AI, shown below.
Types of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Related DOD Examples
The DOD recognizes that the development and use of AI differs from traditional software. Traditional software is programmed to perform tasks based on static instructions, while AI is programmed to learn how to get better at its given tasks. This requires large datasets, computing power, and continuous monitoring to ensure capacity is working as expected. The majority of AI capabilities that support the DOD’s combat mission are still in development. These capabilities largely focus on intelligence analysis, improving weapon system platforms such as aircraft and ships that do not require human operators, and providing on-the-spot recommendations. of battle (for example, where to move troops).
When acquiring new capabilities that depend on complex software, the DOD has historically faced challenges, such as lengthy acquisition processes and a shortage of skilled workers. GAO has found that it continues to face these and other AI-specific challenges, including the availability of usable data to train AI. For example, the AI to detect an adversary’s submarines requires gathering many images of various submarines and labeling them so that the AI can learn to identify one on its own. The DOD also faces challenges integrating trained AI into existing weapon systems that were not designed for it and building trust in AI among its personnel. The DOD has launched a variety of efforts, such as creating a cross-departmental AI digital platform and AI-specific trainings, to address these challenges and support its pursuit of AI, but it too early to assess effectiveness.
Why GAO Did This Study
The DOD has signaled that AI is poised to change future battlefields and the pace of threats facing the United States. AI capabilities could allow machines to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as identifying threats or potential targets on the battlefield. The DOD has designated AI as a top modernization area and is investing heavily in AI tools and capabilities. Other nations are making significant investments in this area that threaten to erode the technological and operational advantage of the US military.
The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence concluded in its March 2021 report that the United States must act quickly to ensure AI readiness. AI experts inside and outside DOD agree that ensuring the department has the infrastructure in place to effectively develop, acquire, and scale AI for intelligence systems will be critical. weapons.
Senate Report 116-236 includes a provision for the GAO to review DOD combat AI acquisition efforts. This report examines (1) the unique nature of AI and the current state of AI capabilities that support weapon systems, and (2) how DOD is addressing the challenges of development, acquisition and deployment of AI capabilities for weapon systems.
To do this, the GAO interviewed officials from more than 20 DOD entities and reviewed DOD documentation as well as reports and recommendations from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, among others.