DARPA Director Unveils AI Next Initiative to Focus on Third-Wave Artificial Intelligence

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency director Steven Walker (pictured here in 2015 with former Defense Secretary Ash Carter) introduced a new artificial intelligence initiative on Friday at the agency's D60 Symposium in National Harbor, Md. DOD photo by SMSgt. Adrian Cadiz.

DARPA will double-down on the next wave of artificial intelligence via its new AI Next initiative, agency Director Steven Walker said Friday.

Walker made the announcement during his closing remarks at the agency’s D60 Symposium. The event, held Sept. 5-7, in National Harbor, Md., commemorates DARPA’s 60th anniversary.

Walker said the “five-year, almost $2 billion plan” will comprise all of the agency’s AI investments and have three central strategic charges.

The first will be to primarily center DARPA’s AI efforts around technologies that deal with contextual reasoning—what Walker called the “third wave of AI.”

The second will be for the agency to “identify and apply current and emerging AI technologies to solve today’s toughest security challenges,” he said.

The last, he said, will be to analyze the inner workings of contemporary AI technologies, “in part to allow the robust performance guarantee essential for military and safety critical systems.”

From a technical perspective, AI Next will have a five-fold focus: “new capabilities,” “robust AI,” “adversarial AI,” “high-performance AI,” and “next-generation AI,” according to the initiative’s website.

Walker promised to “build on and leverage” private-sector AI efforts, but said DARPA will continue to tackle “technical problems that carry too much risk or offer too little financial return for industry in the short term” and that threaten US national security.

DARPA’s involvement in AI isn’t new, Walker said. He cited the agency’s identity as an AI pioneer, and noted that 80 of the agency’s current roster of 250 programs are AI-related.

“Together, we have taken AI from a bold notion with almost no technological underpinnings, … turning it into today’s pervasive capabilities that affect our everyday lives,” he said.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Walker credited DARPA Deputy Director Peter Highnam for leading the AI Next effort.

The announcement follows DARPA’s July 2018 unveiling of its Artificial Intelligence Exploration initiative, which Walker called “a quick-turn, research-funding mechanism” that “will support deep dives into this potential third-wave of AI.”

“AIE [Artificial Intelligence Exploration] constitutes a series of high-risk, high payoff projects where researchers will work to establish the feasibility of new AI concepts within 18 months of award,” a Sept. 7 DARPA press release reads. “Leveraging streamlined contracting procedures and funding mechanisms will enable these efforts to move from proposal to project kick-off within three months of an opportunity announcement.”