Focus on the Human Element to Win the AI Arms Race

Focus on the Human Element to Win the AI Arms Race

The United States must refine its investments to incorporate a deliberate and sustained campaign of mission engineering to accelerate and improve the delivery of trustworthy AI.

Like any new technology, AI and autonomy change, rather than replace, work and workers. For example, the widespread use of the internet for commercial and private purposes dramatically improved information sharing but also created cybercrime and cybersecurity industries. AI promises to improve decision-making, but demands new roles, skills, and knowledge. Government technology programs are notorious for overlooking this. Although the DoD has documented human engineering criteria in Military Standards, the 395-page volume focuses mostly on ergonomics and prescribes no approaches to optimizing cognitive work. The well-intentioned NSCAI emphasized the importance of investments in human-AI teaming, but it’s difficult to understand how to prioritize or implement this among the commission’s fifteen recommendations. Only recently, did the DoD instruct its software programs to include continuous user engagement during development. These instructions should be further refined to prescribe mission engineering as the core enabler of agile development.

Technology races are not won solely based on expenditures. Rather, they are won through sound engineering. As illustrated by decades of human factors engineering research, technologies must be designed for humans. We must move away from under-informed and byzantine contracting and invest in mission engineering campaigns to develop reliable and useful human-machine systems. Investing 10 percent of a program’s budget in mission engineering will ensure that the other 90 percent delivers fit and useful technology. These iterative campaigns will allow us to “learn fast” to bridge the Valley of Death.

Colonel (U.S. Army, Retired) Stoney Trent, Ph.D. is a Cognitive Engineering Research Professor in the Virginia Tech National Security Institute where he leads research on AI assurance and human-machine teaming. Dr. Trent is a Military Intelligence and Cyber Warfare veteran with extensive experience planning and leading technology programs. While on active duty, Dr. Trent designed the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) and established product lines to deliver human-centered AI to improve warfighting and business functions. HDr. Trent has served in combat and stability operations in Iraq, Kosovo, Germany, and Korea, is a graduate of the Army War College, and former Cyber Fellow at the National Security Agency.

Lieutenant Colonel (U.S. Army, Retired) James Doty III, Ph.D., is a technical project manager, historian, and military intelligence veteran. Dr. Doty provides operational expertise for defense and intelligence technology development. As the Senior Intelligence Officer for Operations Group at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, CA, Dr. Doty coordinated the planning and execution of intelligence training and wargames for Army units preparing to deploy. Dr. Doty has served in combat and stability operations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, and Germany, and has been awarded the Bronze Star.

Image: Flickr/U.S. Air Force.