Can telework orders boost AI, tech recruiting?

Keeping telework capabilities could make it easier for DOD to hire AI scientists.

The coronavirus crisis and maximum telework policies placed as a result may force the Defense Department to prize artificial intelligence-efficiency in telework as a competitive advantage.

Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry, the commander for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Program Executive Officer for the Rapid Sustainment Office, said one positive of telework measures to combat COVID-19 is shaking senior leaders out "crusty old dude biases against telework" -- which could make it easier to hire data scientists.

"I think that this dispersed environment that we're [in] during COVID, will allow us to bring on people who really want to do this kind of work," McMurry said during an AI panel at C4ISRNET's virtual conference May 6.

"As we get the ability to work in a dispersed fashion, a telework mindset," said McMurry, who said he works from his closet four-days a week, "it's going to change the game."

That change will be crucial in getting, and retaining, young talent who will, in turn, help DOD automate its administrative processes.

"AI could really help on the automation perspective and eliminate a lot of the low-value work we do today and allow people to focus on higher order tasks," like data organization, which is more difficult to do when a workforce is dispersed, said Vimesh Patel, the chief technology advisor for World Wide Technology, during C4ISRNET's virtual conference May 6.

"Data scientists are no strangers to hanging out in sweatpants at home from their computer. I think it will help the department hire more talent and compete -- the more telework opportunities there are, I think the more folks will … feel more comfortable joining the department and contributing."

DOD officials have already hinted that some aspects and capabilities created to support maximum telework would become permanent once the crisis is abated. McMurry said if senior leaders can get over the "crusty old dude biases against telework," except when security parameters dictate otherwise, the talent will come and so will the automation. But DOD has to make it a priority.

"If you look at how it can help with medical diagnoses, there's huge potential with streamlining and making some of our business processes much better," he said. "I think that support activity behind [the scenes] would really be helpful...It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to give you some help."

Additionally, McMurry said he expects to increase the number of platforms to use a form of predictive analytics in the next year.

"That'll be a huge step forward; that's our goal is 12 more of them this year," and natural language processing supporting that, he said. "The fundamental work of getting to where we do DevSecOps, getting a platform and cloud processing and data environment to enable that, will be well established."

This article first appeared on FCW, a partner site of Defense Systems.