Getty Images / BlackJack3D

The Pentagon’s IT agency is crafting its very own AI-chatbot

The Alexa-type bot would help answer simple queries like “how to get a new laptop,” the agency’s chief tech officer said.

Battlefield commanders could soon get an assist from an AI-powered chatbot when making sense of sensitive, but unclassified, information. But the prototype must first be tested by the Pentagon’s top IT agency. 

The Defense Information Systems Agency is developing “Concierge AI” technology that can take data from multiple sources, plug it into a model or database, “and then have a large language model bang against that database and present the user with answers,” Steve Wallace, the agency’s chief technology officer and head of emerging technologies, said Thursday. 

The goal would be to do tasks like assisting battle captains with after-action reports and answering simple queries like “How do I get a new laptop? How do I get this software installed on my machine?” Wallace said during a panel at the AFCEA DC event in Arlington, Va. 

DISA is actively working on a prototype it expects to launch internally this year. But things are going slower than expected due to a small staff and security challenges with commercial vendors. 

“To be blunt, I wish it were going faster,” Wallace said. “Many of the commercially released models live in commercial clouds. And so that ability to take [controlled unclassified information] queries and back them off of that and get an answer is kind of frowned upon.” 

DISA is looking at alternatives, such as using solutions on the premises and looking for vendors that can move some of the models used to power the Concierge AI to highly secure government clouds.

“One of the things that sets the department apart is our need to service at the edge right, where connectivity may not be great, where some of the trends and it actually start to concern me,” Wallace said, naming software-as-a-service as a challenge for users who don’t have dependable connectivity. 

“How do we better provide that common experience, no matter who the user is, you know, via things like chatbots and that type of thing? How do we get users to the knowledge or to the systems that they need as quickly as possible?”

Nonetheless, Wallace said there’s progress—and the agency plans to have a product soon. 

“I would anticipate us, in the first half of this year, launching an internal prototype within the agency,” he said. “The team is really close to getting some things working. It's pretty exciting. I've seen it, we're just waiting to jump through some of the security hoops and get some things out.”