A top artificial intelligence (AI) leader within the U.S. intelligence community (IC) said on July 15 that the IC – which includes a conglomerate of agencies, including big wigs like the CIA and FBI – has been discussing adopting an “AI-First IC” strategy.

“Something that we’ve been talking about for a while, which is a concept about an AI-first IC,” Rachel Grunspan, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (ODNI) IC AIM (augmenting intelligence using machines) director, said during AFCEA and INSA’s Intelligence and National Security Summit.

“What we mean by that is that everyone, from leadership all the way to those on the line, have adopted a mindset about how to have an orientation for leveraging AI across all aspects of their jobs,” Grunspan said. “That also includes things like upscaling, having a gladiator mentality to helping other people, and ensuring that everybody is just helping all those lift up as quickly as possible.”

Two other AI leaders in the IC said during a panel discussion that their respective agencies are “active” in exploring the new technology, and their focus also is on adopting an AI-first mindset.

“We are in that exploration, experimentation phase,” Director of AI Innovation at the CIA Lakshmi Raman said. She said her team is in the process of “exploiting and exploring” AI tools like natural language processing and computer vision.

The Technical Director for the Computer and Analytic Sciences Research Organization at the National Security Agency (NSA), Jason Wang, said that the IC is at a point where it can no longer push AI to the back burner.

“We really have to face the opportunity and that should be noted for the challenges and defenses of the technology,” Wang said. “We are very active in understanding the behaviors and opportunities of bringing” AI tools into the NSA, he explained.

The officials also noted some challenges of fully adopting an AI-first IC, including budget restraints, the cyber talent gap, and workplace culture.

“Many of the people in this room feel that talent bottleneck because it’s a very limited, recent, and valuable resource tool that we need in place to help us do this,” CIA’s Raman said. “But not only the practitioners, but also the engineers, software developers, people who really can help us drive out and operationalize some of these permissions.”

All the panelists agreed that shifting the workforce culture will be a major step in scaling AI across the IC.

ODNI’s Grunspan said that “we’re heading into a very exciting … next set of years – five years, 10 years.”

Looking at the future of AI, she foresees widespread use of simulations for wargaming and strategic use of red teaming. “Anything that is getting AI in the hands of individual officers – regardless of their job, regardless of their role, regardless of their background, ethical or not,” she said of future goals, adding, “just maximizing the creative capacity of the entire workforce.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.