As the newest branch of the United States armed forces, the United States Space Force is at the innovative edge of applying technology and know-how to newly evolving areas of opportunity and threats. As such, it should come as little surprise that advanced uses of data and artificial intelligence are powering many of the innovative applications.
Speaking at an upcoming AI in Government event on May 19, 2022, Dr. Lisa Costa, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer of the United States Space Force will be sharing insights in how the US Space Force is delivering the first fully digital service, leveraging data and AI. In this article, Dr. Costa shares some insights about what she plans to share at that live event.
What are some innovative ways you’re leveraging data and AI to benefit the United States Space Force?
Dr. Lisa Costa, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer of the United States Space Force (U.S. Air … [+] Force photo by Eric Dietrich)
Eric R. Dietrich
Dr. Lisa Costa: We are rapidly accelerating the adoption of Artificial Intelligence to preserve our competitive military advantages and to build a force fit for our time. Like electricity or computers, we expect AI capabilities to be useful across the broad spectrum of Space Force activities. This includes many activities that are common in commercial industry and many others that are unique to national security. AI technology will change much about the battlefield of the future, but nothing will change America’s steadfast record of honorable military service or our military’s commitment to lawful and ethical behavior. The focus on AI follows the DoD’s history of making investments to preserve our most precious asset, our people, and to limit danger to civilians and collateral damage to civilian infrastructure. All of the AI systems that we field will have compliance with the law of war as a key priority from the first moment of requirements setting through each step of rigorous testing and continuous evaluation.
Thoughtful, responsible, ethical, and human-centric adoption of AI has the potential to positively transform all aspects of USSF operations, thereby supporting and protecting U.S. service members, safeguarding U.S. citizens, defending allies and partners, and improving the effectiveness, agility, affordability, and speed of operations.
Guardians see and experience our warfighting domain through data, so it’s extremely important to us: we view data as a strategic asset. One of the challenges we experience is sifting through massive amounts of data to build an accurate operating picture in real time. We are investing in immersive visualization technologies and customizable dashboards that give our operators ready access to data, as well as the ability to interact with that data in real time. One of the immediate benefits of AI is that we can use it to relieve Guardians from monotonous staffing activities, leaving basic functions to be completed through robotic process automation. This will free Guardians up, allowing them to train, educate, innovate, and wargame. Our approach to data, AI, and machine learning will make us swift and lethal, keeping our edge over potential adversaries.
(1) The end state is not AI. The end state is the mission. If AI supports that mission then we will implement it. (2) AI in particular can help focus the smallest force with the largest domain on that information which requires a Guardian’s attention.
Specifically, what cutting edge technologies are you investing in to digitally transform the United States Space Force (USSF)?
Dr. Lisa Costa: Many organizations are risk-averse when it comes to fielding new technologies. We see ourselves as an aggressive early adopter of cutting-edge, tech-driven technologies that our users may not necessarily understand are available. We are developing a metaverse that links us with each other and with our partners. Our metaverse, called the SpaceVerse™, uses virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, reasoning, and simulation. Operating within it requires those immersive technologies I mentioned previously. Most people are familiar with off the shelf VR headsets that put gamers into virtual worlds. We are doing the same thing with our digital ecosystem but for real and emerging object, processes, and systems
About 70% of Guardians identify themselves as gamers, and that percentage will likely increase over time. We are gamers, and the way we integrate cutting-edge technology and processes into our operations is a game-changer. Embracing gaming technologies has great potential to change the way we view space: not as a picture on a flat monitor, but in three dimensions. This will give Guardians a better feel for the environment, making it easier and faster to make decisions in immersive environments. We are looking to develop or leverage any technology that makes data more immediate and useful to Guardians, helping them adaptively respond to adversary threats, because that is how we will win in the digital theater of the future.
Are you leveraging automation to help on your journey to AI? If so, how?
Dr. Lisa Costa: I mentioned earlier that automation can relieve Guardians of some of the more mundane “legacy” functions of an organization, freeing them up to focus on operations and professional development. We are already doing that. Machine learning can take that advantage one step further, using decision algorithms to speed up the process of analyzing and sorting data from multiple sources, synchronizing multi-domain command and control capabilities, assisting Guardians in taking action at the lowest possible levels of authority, and helping them tee up decisions for leaders with the best possible data and recommendations.
The relatively small size of our force coupled with the demand for speed and agility required to operate effectively in our domain necessitates that we streamline and automate many routine and repetitive tasks that do not require human discernment, doing so in accordance with all applicable legal and ethical guidelines. We must free Guardians of these burdens to enable them to focus on the work only they can perform, like leading, developing, and engaging with their fellow Guardians and assets in space. In terms of human resources and talent management, this means the use of robotic process automation (RPA) and data analytic tools and technology, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning are critical enablers. So all Guardians at every level must be digitally fluent.
How do you identify which problem area(s) to start with for your automation and cognitive technology projects?
Dr. Lisa Costa: At the lowest level, our automation projects are tackling simple, everyday decision making within the basic staffing functions. Again, we are doing this to free up Guardian bandwidth to address the higher-order aspect of space and cyber operations. When it comes to providing joint, all-domain solutions for retaining space dominance, one of our challenges is the sheer amount of data generated within Space Force, as well as the data fed in by our partners and their systems. The main thrust of our cognitive technology projects is to help Guardians see data in a meaningful, actionable way that keeps them interconnected, enables them to be innovative, and to retain digital dominance over potential adversaries.
What are some of the unique opportunities the public sector has when it comes to data and AI?
Dr. Lisa Costa: The American technology industry, defense industrial base, and academic sector all play a critical role in National Security. The USSF needs their support to effectively accelerate AI adoption.
Our partnerships with think tanks, academia, and the tech sector are continuously growing. The tech sector is doing amazing things with virtual reality, nanotechnology, and AI and machine learning, to name a few fields. We want to work with technology and thought leaders in every field of science that improves how we defend US interests in space and the cyber realms.
The advantages of partnering with the public sector go back a long way. Before World War Two, the United States didn’t have a large unit of combat troops who could ski and climb mountains. We didn’t even have a school for skiers and mountaineers. So what did we do? We went to industry and partnered with its leaders, and we used their expertise to build the units and capabilities we needed to meet our defense needs. We’re taking that same approach now, seeking to work with the world’s best software developers, rocket and aviation innovators, simulations experts, electronics firms, and others. We will leverage existing and emerging technologies, and our innovative approach to developing and adopting cutting-edge technologies will help us maintain our edge. Leveraging public sector capabilities will help us speed up the acquisition cycle so we can operate at the speed of the latest technologies.
We may want to add that when we buy from industry vs. build ourselves, we share the cost of that capability, it’s cyber protection, testing and training with many other customers vs. having to maintain a capability we’ve built. This allows our Guardians to focus on those technologies unique to Space Force.
Can you share some of the challenges when it comes to AI and ML in the public sector?
Dr. Lisa Costa: We are looking to leverage Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for very specific defense purposes. That isn’t an end-use that most industry leaders have in mind as they develop their capabilities. When we seek partnerships, we need to demonstrate the mutual benefit of partnering with Space Force, and we need to move forward with a shared understanding of how the partnership benefits both sides. In some cases, we are looking for capabilities that no one is developing yet, and we are excited about partnering with organizations that will join us in building the world’s first fully digital service.
Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, emphasized the urgent need to “create a digital service to accelerate innovation.” To understand the scope of the changes needed and establish a framework to implement these changes, the CPG identified four focus areas: Digital Engineering, Digital Workforce, Digital Headquarters, and Digital Operations. Developing an interconnected, innovative, digitally dominant force starts with embracing the information age tools at our disposal.
As we work with industry, there are key areas that we, the government, need to help industry overcome. For example, security classifications, intellectual property of AI/ML algorithms, code bases for algorithms to maintain continuous improvement/continuous delivery, and keeping sensitive code off the defense industrial base (DIB) networks for protection purposes.
How are you navigating privacy, trust, and security concerns around the use of data and cognitive technologies?
Dr. Lisa Costa: Our data platforms have to be secure, safe, stable, and accessible at all times. Because one of the tenets of being a “digital service” is being interconnected, we recognize a natural concern about privacy, trust, and security. While being a military service gives us access to years of experience with privacy, trust, and security, our partners might not always share that aspect of our knowledge base and organizational culture. Therefore, our partnerships always begin with a clear agreement on how we are going to use data and technology together, with the recognition that privacy, trust, and security are a two-way street.
What are you doing to develop an AI ready workforce?
Dr. Lisa Costa: One of the most important things we can do is recruit, train, and retain the right people. Continuous learning and personal growth is the Guardian mantra, and our workforce expects to be challenged to adapt to new technologies and processes. Our workforce, at all levels, also has a say in how we operate. There is no monopoly on good ideas in the U.S. Space Force. Our new Digital Acceleration Center is an enduring space where Guardians can provide feedback and ideas, as well as continuously gain visibility into our digital transformation progress and updates. Guardians must possess the right digital aptitude and attitude to lead the transformation.
We also have various avenues for training and certifying our workforce in new technologies and capabilities, and taking advantage of those opportunities is not just encouraged: it is expected. Beyond the broad spectrum of learning opportunities available to Guardians through our private sector contracts, our Digital University offers courses in cybersecurity, data science and AI, digital engineering, digital product development, and modern infrastructure. We are looking to expand those offerings, as well as other training and learning opportunities as we continue to change and adapt to modern challenges and ever-evolving technologies and processes.
What AI technologies are you most looking forward to in the coming years?
Dr. Lisa Costa: The core objective is delivering AI-enabled capabilities that create organizational efficiency and enable mission impact through human-machine teaming. Our metaverse will link us with our partners. It will enable collaboration between gaming and immersive technologies, and it will bring multiple stakeholders together to simultaneously view the same data sets to enable more rapid, data-driven decision making across the spectrum of Space Force operations.
The AI technologies that excite us most are those that can increase collaboration, and those that can take complex problems or data sets and organize them in ways that are more meaningful and relevant for decision makers. As an example, think about an emergent threat in space. We want to leverage AI and machine learning technologies to shorten the timeline from notification, to collaboration, to decision making, to developing and testing solutions, and then to mounting an effective response to real threats in real time. That’s why we’re here.