While the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) technology is almost infinite, it still isn’t always the right solution to every problem, said Brett Vaughan, the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) chief AI officer, and ONR AI portfolio manager, during an August 19 webinar hosted by Cognilytica.

According to Vaughan, it’s essential to be deliberate in order to successfully deploy AI solutions. The technology itself is not crucial, but what really matters is how it’s used, and for what purposes.

“We have to remember, and it’s important to remember that [AI] is not always the right tool,” Vaughan said. “If we made the most intelligent decision in the procurement of technology but got the cultural, organizational, and process piece wrong, we’d be running in place or worse, running backward. Wasting time, money, and effort.”

The Navy also has limited resources, and pursuing every possible path of AI development is not a viable option. Therefore, the Navy selects what to work on and where to bring AI to the field – essential elements of what Vaughan calls AI calculus. Before deploying AI solutions, step one for the Navy is to look for problems and challenges that the service branch must address, Vaughan said. The second step is to determine whether AI is the right tool to tackle that challenge. Finally, the last step is bringing that technology to bear effectively for operational needs.

Additionally, the Navy is looking into AI applications to enhance and optimize areas related to AI in order to maintain advantages over adversaries and other competitors, he said.

Currently, the Navy’s AI research efforts are divided into three main areas of focus.

The Navy is looking to leverage natural language processing and other machine learning techniques. AI can handle menial tasks that relieve personnel of these assignments and, in turn, complete higher-level tasks. The Navy is also bringing new levels of autonomy to unmanned systems through AI and enhancing those systems’ functionality, keeping soldiers away from unnecessary danger. The Navy is also developing AI for decision support to help personnel do their jobs or perform tasks better.

“We have work to do to make sure we not only master the technology but the organizational and process-related aspect of bringing that technology to bear effectively for operations for the most meaningful and impactful ways,” Vaughan said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.