Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, June 24, 2021

Air Force, MIT Collaborate on AI Research 

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working with the U.S. Air Force to develop new AI technologies with potential dual-use applications.

The Air Force plans to invest about $15 million annually in the MIT-Air Force AI Accelerator. Basic research will focus on rapid prototyping and application of AI algorithms and systems to “improve Air Force operations while also addressing broader societal needs,” MIT said in announcing the agreement earlier this month.

The Air Force added that fundamental AI research would tackle computational intelligence, reasoning, decision-making and autonomy. Beginning this summer, 11 Air Force assignees will be assigned to work with MIT researchers.

The AI accelerator will fund ten or more MIT research projects focused on areas like disaster response and “medical readiness.” Specific Air Force applications include new algorithms that could assist the service’s expensive equipment maintenance and logistics efforts. “This fundamental research also intends to develop AI to assist humans in aspects of planning, control, and other complex tasks,” MIT said.

The research will be coordinated through MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “We plan to assemble interdisciplinary teams that will collaborate across disparate fields of AI to create new algorithms and solutions,” said Daniela Rus, the MIT lab’s director.

Along with disaster relief and medical preparedness, other research areas may include data management, situational awareness, cyber defenses and business operations, the Air Force said.

The AI accelerator is part of a broader Air Force science and technology strategy that includes partnerships with U.S. university researchers.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson called the partnership with MIT “a huge opportunity for the Air Force as we deepen and expand our scientific and technical enterprise.”

The MIT-Air Force partnership is the latest Defense Department AI initiative aimed at harnessing the technology for everything from maintenance and logistics to air combat simulations. Earlier this month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced its latest AI effort dubbed ACE, for Air Combat Evolution, to develop trusted AI to assist fighter pilots in making split-second decisions while flying at supersonic speeds. The idea, program officials said, is to automate air-to-air combat, freeing fighter pilots to focus on the overall air battle.

Among the goals is building trust between pilot and machine to “accelerate the transformation of pilots from aircraft operators to mission battle commanders,” DARPA said.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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