AI will not replace humans, but humans using AI will replace humans not using AI, the Coast Guard’s chief data officer (CDO) stated Thursday at ATARC’s Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics Breakfast Summit.

Capt. Brian Erickson said during his keynote speech on April 6 that use of AI will become the “norm and not the exception.”

Erickson began his presentation by telling the story of the motor vehicle Golden Ray rescue that the Coast Guard executed in 2019.

In what Erickson describes as “one of the most unique rescues” during his 30 years of service, a 656-foot vessel capsized and caught fire off the coast of Brunswick, Ga., in September 2019. The number of people on board included 23 crew members and one pilot – four of which were stranded for 36 hours before Erickson’s team could rescue them safely.

So, what’s the AI lesson they learned?

“An automated interface that was available was bypassed for a manual process, ultimately resulting in a catastrophic outcome,” Erickson said.

He explained that the Golden Ray’s chief officer received an error when calculating the ship’s stability manually, resulting in the capsize that occurred almost four years ago. Had the officer leveraged the automated feature that integrates data into the system, Erickson said, this accident could have been avoided.

“I’m hoping that this story is something that you think about as you develop, deploy, design, maintain, upgrade AI tools for frontline operators,” the CDO said. “An interface that is not so comfortable to use, [so] it was bypassed for a manual process.”

After hours of a grueling rescue mission onboard a smoking Golden Ray, Erickson dubbed the officers who were able to safely extract the final four crew members as “heroes.”

“These heroes deserve best-in-breed tools,” Erickson said. “Today, those best-of-breed tools will require AI solutions that can be rapidly deployed on government hardware and are so intuitive and valuable that their use is the norm and not the exception.”

“You’re going to be developing and deploying AI solutions, not for data scientists and expert terminal operators,” he said. “Your solutions are going to be used by frontline operators who must focus their extremely limited time on operational proficiency and must be delivered AI tools that are intuitive and usable.”

He continued, adding, “AI will not replace humans in the future, but humans using AI will replace humans not using AI. This is an important concept that’s been and will be applied for competitive advantage in business. It will be applied for competitive advantage in national defense operations and conflict.”

“The mission of my office, the Office of Data Analytics, is to accelerate the advancement of data and AI for business efficiency and mission success throughout the United States Coast Guard, because our operators and your Coast Guard deserve best-of-breed tools and the training and education to use them,” Erickson said.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan