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USAF-MIT AI Accelerator

COLLABORATION FOR NEW AI SOLUTIONS

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

DIGITAL REPORT 2020


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USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR: COLLABORATION FOR NEW AI SOLUTIONS


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a i a .m it . ed u


USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR

MICHAEL KANAAN ON THE USAF AND MIT’S AI ACCELERATOR, AND ITS MISSION TO USE AI TO INCREASE CAPABILITIES WHILE ADDRESSING SOCIETAL DEMANDS

M

ichael Kanaan is Director of Operations, U.S. Air Force and MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator, having previously been at the

Pentagon as the co-chair of AI for the Air Force. The USAF-MIT AI Accelerator began in January 04

2020. “It’s pursuant to a cooperative agreement with MIT, MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the Department of the Air Force,” explains Kanaan. “Our efforts stretch across three main lines. The first is to execute a number of flagship AI projects and the related work to bring that into existence. The second is developing scalable AI education for the workforce – all demographics, all ages, and all ranks. And the last is to lead the dialogue in AI ethics and safety. It’s all about making AI real for our workforce.” Aside from the three flagship projects which we are covering in depth, the initiatives include such things as natural language processing for communication with machine and foreign language training, swarming unmanned aerial vehicles for


2019

Year founded

50

Number of employees

05

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USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR

“IT’S ABOUT BEING MORE ACCURATE, DELIVERING BETTER LOGISTICS, WORKING ON HUMANITARIAN AID MISSIONS WHILE ALSO SAVING THE TAXPAYER DOLLARS” — Michael Kanaan, Director of Operations, U.S. Air Force and MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator

06

The MIT and Air Force collaboration is of a lineage with some of the most illustrious projects in the history of the United States. “There’s a triangular

deployment on humanitarian aid mis-

relationship between industry, aca-

sions, and using big data to illuminate

demia, and government in the United

weather circumstances in areas with-

States, that’s very special and very

out a ground station. The projects

storied throughout our past.” Kanaan

are linked by a shared focus, as

emphasizes that it stems from a com-

Kanaan explains. “The most important

mon language between government,

thing is to ensure that we all have a

industry, and academia which must be

common and shared dialogue and

nurtured. “We have to reinvigorate the

understanding of what AI is, what it

relationship that, for instance, brought

isn’t, how it works, and how to walk

the internet into our homes. Artificial

along that journey.”

intelligence is something that’s going to be viewed as equivalent to electricity in our lives, because of the way it affects us every single day. What could be more important than something like electricity being shared by the


Michael Kanaan | USAF-MIT AI Accelerator CLICK TO WATCH

|

1:14

07 greatest minds, by those who build the

the largest. “This is a team sport. It’s a

best technologies and by the govern-

whole-of-nation effort, with small busi-

ment as representative of its people?”

ness innovation and research crucial to

The work has been enabled by the

the success of the United States Air and

participation of a number of key part-

Space Force. Meanwhile, our traditional

ners, whose professional experts and

partners understand us better than

contractors have worked alongside

anyone else. They know how to integrate

MIT and the USAF. “A lot of work that is

technologies with the legacy architec-

necessary to bring modern technolo-

tures that we must rely upon. We can’t

gies like cloud to bear, without which

buy a new thing every single day, and

you would not have artificial intelligence.

many of those things we can’t put in the

We want to make sure that it’s as easy

cockpit of a jet, of course. And then lastly,

as possible for our workforce to grasp.”

nontraditional partners help to reinvigor-

Kanaan emphasizes that partners run

ate the conversations that we need

the gamut of sizes, from the smallest to

to have on AI today.” a i a .m it . ed u


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USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR

10 The fruits of the labor being put into these projects are not only for the Air Force’s benefit, with wider society also

to detecting people in flooded areas, and delivering telemedical health.” In that spirit, public challenges have

standing to gain. Kanaan cites humani-

been established for the two-way

tarian disasters, such as the wildfires

sharing of information. “The public

and hurricanes which have had a

challenges will ultimately help develop

devastating impact on the US this year,

the associated projects for use in pub-

as examples of situations that could

lic society. And I think what I’m excited

benefit from its work. “Humanitarian

about is our release of some of these

aid is a huge mission of the United

public challenges like magnetic navi-

States Air Force, as it is of the Army,

gation using earth’s magnetic sphere,

the Navy, Coast Guard, and so on. AI

for which you can find the public

has a role to play, and that can stretch

GitHub repository today.”

across swarming drones to using computer vision, to predicting fire lines,

The initiatives are standing the Air and Space Forces in good stead


for the future by embracing digital

taxpayer dollars and making sure that

transformation. “Once upon a time in

we are good stewards of that money.”

the industrial age, you had to make

Kanaan views the collaboration

trade-offs between speed, accuracy,

that has enabled the accelerator as

and cost,” says Kanaan. “In the digital

key to its success. “I can’t emphasize

age, thanks to machine learning, arti-

enough how grateful we are to MIT,

ficial intelligence or any of the number

to academia, to industry for being a

of other automation techniques that

part of this conversation and to our

are part of digital transformation, you

airmen and workforce for wanting

can now do all three at once. For the

to have the dialogue. What makes us

Department of the Air Force, it’s about

special is that, while we are certain

being more accurate, delivering bet-

to make mistakes along the way, we

ter logistics, working on humanitarian

hold a dialogue afterwards. It’s all

aid missions while also saving the

about diving in.”

11

E X E C U T I V E P R O FILE :

Michael Kanaan Title: Director of Operations

Industry: Academia and Defense

Location: United States Captain Michael Kanaan is the Director of Operations to the USAFMIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator and the former co-chair of artificial intelligence for the U.S. Air Force. He was named to the Forbes “30 Under 30” list and received the US Government’s 68th Arthur S. Flemming Award (an honor shared by past recipients Neil Armstrong, Robert Gates, and Elizabeth Dole). Kanaan is a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and previously led a National Intelligence Campaign for Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq. a i a .m it . ed u


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USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR

David Jacobs | USAF-MIT AI Accelerator CLICK TO WATCH

|

0:37

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MAJ. DAVID JACOBS, US AIR FORCE: MAGNETIC NAVIGATION Having graduated from Stetson University College of Law as a patent attorney, Maj. David Jacobs, U.S. Air Force, got to ply his trade while stationed at an Air Force research lab. “I became the only active duty patent attorney, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to get where I am today as both the chief legal counsel to work on intellectual property, data rights, contracts, industry, and, of course, ethics, and then also a program manager for the robust neural differential models for navigation and beyond.”


Considering his role, Jacobs

with the Department of Army to

emphasises the focus on ethics that

develop a simple two-page guide to

pervades the Air Force’s work with

help Air Force and MIT researchers

AI. We embed in all of our projects a

understand when something is human

consideration of artificial intelligence

subject research under AI, and when

ethics and how it’s done. The Air Force

it is not, so that we’re following ethical

wants to be a leader in AI, and to do

guidelines at all times.”

that you have to focus on ethics.” He

In line with this ethical considera-

gives the example of the possibility

tion are the public challenges. “The

of human research subjects being

Air Force can actually be a partner

implicated from AI research based

in advancing the state of the art for

upon data. “One of the things we did

everyone, and be leaders in this field.

is work with the Air Force 711th Human

While it’s not new for academia to put

Performance Wing and coordinated

forward challenges for other academics, it is new for the Air Force to get involved.” That new approach has required a number of advancements to make possible. “Some of the things

“THE AIR FORCE WANTS TO BE A LEADER IN AI, AND TO DO THAT YOU HAVE TO FOCUS ON ETHICS” — Maj. David Jacobs, US Air Force a i a .m it . ed u

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USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR

16

that we’ve had to address include the

alternative GPS could look like and

Air Force sharing data at such a public

magnetic navigation is one of the

level. On the legal side, we’ve devel-

possibilities,” says Jacobs. “Magnetic

oped a data sharing agreement which

navigation takes the earth magnetic

enables the Air Force to share data

resonance and a magnetometer reader

publicly with academia and industry.”

to pinpoint where you are in relation

That collaboration is key to the

to the earth. Because this technique

Magnetic Navigation project, which

doesn’t rely on any external sources,

Jacobs works on, and is aimed at

it becomes particularly useful in

developing an alternative to GPS

areas where other signal sources are

systems which are vulnerable to dis-

uncommon, such as over water.”

ruption, especially in a conflict setting,

The role of AI in the project is

which would create huge problems

threefold, as Jacobs explains. “One,

in both a military and civilian setting,

we’re using AI to reduce excess noise

considering the extent to which the

on the system. Have the AI cancel

technology is embedded in our lives.

out what is coming from the plane

“The government is looking into what

and recognize what is interference


and what are actual readings. Two,

Joint Artificial intelligence Center and

determine your position in real time

the Department of Defense. “We’ve

with faster speeds. As we go to other

had some talks with DARPA, with

vehicles like an F-16, we’re breaking

NASA and of course, academic insti-

the sound barrier and so we need to

tutions and industry. We’re happy

determine location at much faster

to work with small business, large

speeds. And then finally we’re com-

business and other academic institu-

bining that magnetic parameter with

tions, because the more people that

other systems in the aircraft to cre-

tackle this problem, the better. We’re

ate a complete picture.”

approaching it as a chance to provide

The project has attracted a number of interested partners, such as the

something that is good for the community at large.” 17

E X E C U T I V E P R O FILE :

David Jacobs Title: Chief Legal Counsel

Industry: Academia and Defense

Location: United States Maj. Jacobs is the legal advisor to the USAF-MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator. In addition to providing advice on contracts, intellectual property, fiscal, ethics, and cutting-edge AI legal developments to the Accelerator program; he also works as the Air Force lead on Robust Neural Differential Models for Navigation and Beyond. Jacobs earned a B.S. in Biology from Arizona State University and earned his law degree from Stetson University College of Law. He served as a patent attorney before commissioning in the Air Force.

a i a .m it . ed u


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Tableau and the USAF: data as a strategic asset Tableau’s Michael Parker on the benefits its data analysis and visualisation platform brings to the United States Air Force

Data analysis and visualisation company Tableau offers its customers the capacity to make better use of the data they have. Michael Parker is VP, Business Development at the company. “ Tableau’s mission is simple,” he says. “We help people see and understand their data. We provide that through a single pane of glass view of their data in a secure environment, ensuring the right people have the right access to the right data at the right time.” It’s that capability that is behind Tableau’s partnership with the United States Air Force, as Parker explains. “They’re looking at data as a strategic asset and as a common service component of digital transformation. We use the tools specifically around a couple of use cases that draw a great return on investment. One was civilian hiring. We needed to understand where the choke points are, where’s the lag and the slack in the process. By pulling the data in from end-to-end in that whole civilian hiring process, we could look at it through an operational lens to really understand where we were experiencing challenges. Strategic decisions made along the

way ultimately compressed the timeline by two thirds.” With chief data offices now established in each of the services, Parker believes the full value of data is now being appreciated. In standing that up, it’s been recognised that data is a strategic asset and a powerful tool for both the business and warfighting domains.” The partnership has also proved its worth in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Having tools for personnel use, personnel accountability, tracking of individuals and even return to work processes was really important, and so the partnership was critical at that point.” Parker emphasises that the partnership is built to last. “At Tableau, we plan to continue to build our partnership and understand the strategic and operational needs of the Defense Department and how the platform can help solve issues and provide capabilities in strengthening our partnership over time.”

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USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR

TSGT. ARMANDO CABRERA, US AIR FORCE: SYNTHETIC APERTURE RADAR

Geospatial Intelligence. “I worked

“I’m first generation everything,” says

school and graduated as a distin-

TSgt. Armando Cabrera, US Air Force.

guished graduate.”

really hard in the Air Force technical

“First generation American, first in

20

Having demonstrated his potential,

my family to graduate high school,

Cabrera was eventually selected for

college and first to join the military.”

a program usually reserved for offic-

Having graduated with a Bachelor’s

ers to be sent to Amazon to learn best

in Mechanical Engineering, and

practices for machine learning. “I was

after some time struggling to find a

there for a year, playing two kinds of

job, Cabrera joined the Air Force for

roles. First, I was a student taking all

E X E C U T I V E P R O FILE :

Armando Cabrera Title: AI Flight Chief

Industry: Academia and Defense

Location: United States Tech. Sgt. Armando Cabrera is the flight chief for the USAF-MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator’s Multimodal Vision for Synthetic Aperature Radar (MV4SAR) project. Carbrera earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Southern California and worked as a geospatial intelligence analyst for the Air Force before being accepted as one of the first enlisted members into the Education with Industry program. Cabrera was assigned to Amazon for a year, and was the first DoD employee to complete Amazon’s Machine Learning Education University. Currently, he is a lead researcher for SAR to EO image translation, and is a content developer in AI education for MIT Lincoln Lab.


Armando Cabrera | USAF-MIT AI Accelerator CLICK TO WATCH

|

0:49

21

their courses, starting from the fun-

the Multimodal Vision for Synthetic

damentals of mathematics, machine

Aperture Radar project. “What I bring

learning, all the way to neural networks.

is the operational experience of how

And then also I was building training

to use these types of sensors, so I can

guides for how to use their equipment

field questions.” The goal of the project

and software.”

is to turn the images taken by special-

That background has led him to MIT, where he is now responsible for

ized sensors into more human readable and interpretable photos. “That way

a i a .m it . ed u


22

“THE TWO YEARS THAT I WAS ABLE TO SPEND WITH A NON-STOP FOCUS ON MACHINE LEARNING AND AI HAVE MEANT I’VE BEEN ABLE TO BRING BACK A LOT OF BENEFITS” — TSgt. Armando Cabrera, US Air Force

you don’t need experience as an image

or clouds and easily get additional infor-

analyst, to understand what the images

mation that we normally wouldn’t have.”

show. SAR sensors can penetrate

The project uses learning algorithms

things like weather or smoke, but the

trained on paired SAR and more eas-

drawback is it’s hard to interpret the

ily understood electro-optical (EO)

image itself. I’m hoping that with this

images. “It’s able to learn what a SAR

capability that we’re creating, it can be

image will look like compared with an

used during events that usually don’t

EO image, and over time it will pick up

deploy it for. We can automatically use

the characteristics of the SAR image

the sensor to penetrate through smoke

that are equivalent to EO image. That


23

way, it can create new images with the

now accessible to far more people.

synthetic EO image attached.” Cabrera

“When I first heard I was going to learn

points to the usefulness of such tech-

machine learning, I didn’t know what

nology in response to disasters such as

it was. But AI is so democratized now

the California wildfires, making previ-

that I could learn a lot of information

ously obscured areas visible to build up

just from searching the internet. The

a better picture of what is happening on

two years that I was able to spend with

the ground.

a non-stop focus on machine learning

Cabrera hails the open nature of machine learning as meaning that it’s

and AI have meant I’ve been able to bring back a lot of benefits.” a i a .m it . ed u


USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR

CAPT. RONISHA CARTER, U.S. AIR FORCE: C-17 SCHEDULING Having enlisted in the Air Force directly out of high school, Capt. Ronisha Carter started off in the field of server maintenance and boundary protection, before becoming an officer and receiving a Master’s in Computer Engineering. “I

24

was selected for an Education with

of scheduling less time consuming

Industry fellowship at VMware, where

while increasing efficiency and mini-

I was able to work within an Artificial

mizing errors. “Creating an Air Force

Intelligence Machine Learning develop-

flight schedule today, the scheduler

ment team,” she says. “It was at this time

has to account for a multitude of

when I developed a foundation in artifi-

variables we identify as constraints.

cial intelligence and machine learning.”

This includes qualifications or the

Her current role is as a Cyberspace

training a pilot requires for that seat

Warfare Operations officer. “My career

and crew rest – the time they must

field covers the entire communications

take off in between each flight. Also

spectrum,” says Carter. “Everything

the amount of flights that need to

from network defense to base com-

be scheduled, and the time intervals

munications structures, to tactical

between those flights. This process

communications. This background along

is currently being accomplished through

with my AI foundation led me to be one

various manual channels. Separate

of 11 selected to collaborate with MIT

data systems, phone calls, and even

on the integration of artificial intelligence

whiteboards, which causes schedul-

technology into Air Force platforms.”

ing to be immensely complex and

Under Carter’s remit falls the C-17 scheduling project, with the intention

time consuming.” The remedy to that involves using AI

of bettering the lives of pilots and

to take up the burden. “What we hope

airmen using AI to make the process

to achieve is to create a data driven


model that can produce the best or

work that we’re doing today could

most optimized schedule for multiple

allow for advancements in sched-

objectives and constraints,” says

uling for hospital staffing, shift

Carter. “We provide decision-makers

workers, cargo and mail distribution,

with a mathematically aided assess-

logistics operations, and even com-

ment that predicts schedules weeks

mercial airline crew scheduling or

in advance and it gives them back time

flight maintenance.”

in their day.” Wider implications for the project

Carter emphasizes the extent to which ethical considerations guide

involve the gaining of efficiencies

everything which is done with AI.

across the board, from supply chains

“Within all of our projects we are con-

to maintenance. “For instance, the

sidering the implications of ethics. 25

E X E C U T I V E P R O FILE :

Ronisha Carter Title: Artificial Intelligence R&D

Industry: Academia and Defense

Location: United States Capt. Carter is the USAF-MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator’s lead for AI-Assisted Optimization of Training Schedules project. Carter has a B.S. in Computer Science from Hawaii Pacific University and an M.S. in Computer Engineering from Florida International University. Carter worked as a Cyber Operations Officer before being selected to the Education with Industry program where she was assigned to VMWare to use ML/AI to create content driven intelligence platforms. Her technical papers on ML/AI during this time helped land her a follow-on assignment to MIT to serve as part of the initial core of embedded Airmen for the AI Accelerator. a i a .m it . ed u


USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR

26

“THE WORK THAT WE’RE DOING TODAY COULD HELP HOSPITAL STAFFING, SHIFT WORKERS, CARGO AND MAIL DISTRIBUTION, LOGISTICS, OPERATIONS AND EVEN COMMERCIAL AIRLINE CREW SCHEDULING AND FLIGHT MAINTENANCE” — Capt. Ronisha Carter, US Air Force


Ronisha Carter | USAF-MIT AI Accelerator CLICK TO WATCH

|

0:36

27 In February, the DoD adopted ethics

Software development teams that

principles for AI based on recom-

vector internal Air Force talent to

mendations from the Defense Board

solve and engineer solutions for the

of Innovation. This mandates that all

really tough Air Force problems. Our

DoD AI capabilities must be responsi-

team of MIT principal investigators,

ble, equitable, traceable, reliable, and

grad students, software develop-

governable and meet the same legal,

ers, human-computer interaction

ethical, and policy standards across

designers, and Air Force software

the department.

development teams ensures we cre-

Partnerships have again made the

ate better solutions for our Airmen.�

project possible. “Our partnership with MIT and Lincoln Lab is essential to developing these technologies, and we also work hand-in-hand with Tron and Airmen Coders, Air Force a i a .m it . ed u


USAF-MIT AI ACCELERATOR 300 TECHNOLOGY SQ CAMBRIDGE MA 02139 USA

aia.mit.edu

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Profile for Business Chief USA

US Air Force - December 2020  

US Air Force - December 2020  

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