Machines That “Understand and Reason in Context”
The first wave of artificial intelligence (AI) research, in the 1960s, focused on rule-based systems capable of narrowly defined tasks. Thirty years later, a second wave of research brought in machine learning technologies that created statistical patterns from (at the time) vast volumes of data. From these sprang personal assistants, advanced prosthetics and unmanned systems. These systems, however, depend on high quality training data, cannot adapt easily to changing conditions and cannot offer operators explanations for their results.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – heavily involved in both previous waves – is therefore launching a third wave of development, announcing a multi-year investment of over $2 billion in the ‘AI Next’ campaign, seeking to explore new theories and applications that could make it possible for machines to adapt to changing situations. The agency sees this next generation of AI as a wave of contextual adaptation.
“With AI Next, we are making multiple research investments aimed at transforming computers from specialised tools to partners in problem-solving,” explained DARPA Director Dr Steven H Walker. “Today, machines lack contextual reasoning capabilities, and their training must cover every eventuality, which is not only costly, but ultimately impossible. We want to explore how machines can acquire human-like communication and reasoning capabilities, with the ability to recognise new situations and environments and adapt to them.”
There are over 20 DARPA programmes currently exploring ways to advance the state-of-the-art in AI, and an additional 60 already applying AI in some capacity. Over the next 12 months, the agency plans to multiple new programmes that may cover such key areas as: automating critical DoD business processes, such as security clearance vetting in a week or accrediting software systems in one day for operational deployment; improving the robustness and reliability of AI systems; enhancing the security and resiliency of machine learning and AI technologies; reducing power, data, and performance inefficiencies; and pioneering the next generation of AI algorithms and applications, such as ‘explainability’ and commonsense reasoning.
In addition to new and existing DARPA research, a key component of the campaign will be DARPA’s Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) program, first announced in July 2018. “In today’s world of fast-paced technological advancement, we must work to expeditiously create and transition projects from idea to practice,” commented Dr. Walker. Accordingly, AIE constitutes a series of high-risk, high payoff projects in which researchers will work to establish the feasibility of new AI concepts within 18 months of award. 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.
DARPA envisions a future in which machines are more than just tools that execute human-programmed rules or generalise from human-curated data sets. Machines will function more as colleagues than as tools. Towards this end, DARPA research and development in human-machine symbiosis sets a goal to partner with machines. Enabling computing systems in this manner is of critical importance because sensor, information, and communication systems generate data at rates beyond which humans can assimilate, understand, and act. Incorporating these technologies in military systems that collaborate with troops will facilitate better decisions in complex, time-critical, battlefield environments; enable a shared understanding of massive, incomplete, and contradictory information; and empower unmanned systems to perform critical missions safely and with high degrees of autonomy. DARPA is focusing its investments on a third wave of AI that brings forth machines that understand and reason in context.