As the first director of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) prepares to retire, creating an Artificial Intelligence (AI) education program for the department is at the top of the list of priorities for his yet-to-be announced successor.

“One of the cornerstone projects for us over the next year will be responding to a congressional direction on something called Section 256,” said JAIC Director Lt. Gen. John “Jack” Shanahan,  referencing part of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which requires the department to provide Congress with an AI education and training strategy for servicemembers and a corresponding implementation plan.

The JAIC is “building through what 256 needs to look like,” said Shanahan, speaking during an online event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on May 29. Shanahan said calling 256, “a formidable task would be a ‘gross understatement.’”

milCloud 2.0 supports cloud data management, backup and recovery, backup-as-a-service Learn More

The law requires a curriculum designed to give servicemembers a basic knowledge of AI, including instruction in AI design; software coding; potential military applications of AI and their impact on military strategy and doctrine; AI decision-making via machine learning and neural networks; the potential biases and weaknesses of AI; and the ethical issues relating to AI.


All these items for the strategy and implementation plan are to be presented to the congressional defense committees within 270 days of the bill’s enactment. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Dec. 20 of last year.

“I was incredibly impressed by how much work had happened by just 6 months ago,” said Shanahan, of the services, which updated him before his most recent review about talent management with the Secretary of Defense.

Despite the legislative deadline for the AI education plan, Shanahan knows building an AI talent pipeline in the department will take help from Congress and long-term work.

Shanahan pointed to a potential legislative proposal to pay coders for learning coding skills, like linguists are paid for learning language skills.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” said Shanahan of training the department on AI, “This is going to be a journey of five to 10 years.”

Read More About
More Topics
Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.