Pentagon Wants AI to Interpret ‘Strategic Activity’ Around the Globe

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The Defense Innovation Unit is seeking commercial tools to glean insights from global news outlets, social media platforms, and other publicly available resources.

The Defense Department’s startup outreach office is looking for artificial intelligence tools that can keep help Pentagon officials understand trends in world events.

The Defense Innovation Unit last week put out a solicitation for commercial software that can automatically ingest, analyze and derive insights from publicly available information. The tool is expected to plug into a wide variety of global resources, including news outlets, blogs, social media platforms, patent databases and academic journals.

After crunching the data, the “AI-based knowledge graph” would generate visualizations and written reports to help Defense leaders better understand and interpret the “strategic activity” it uncovers, according to the solicitation. The tool would also need to show its work, allowing officials to trace its insights and conclusions back to the source data.

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DIU officials want the system to be able to translate information from multiple languages, and detect and redact personally identifiable information.

The contract is only available to U.S.-owned companies with “commercially viable” technologies on-hand. Interested vendors must submit responses by midnight on Oct. 5. The agency plans to award a prototype contract within 60 days of the response deadline.

DIU plans to pursue the project using Commercial Solutions Opening, a special procurement authority that allows officials to solicit bids from private-sector innovators who haven’t previously done business with the government. Like other alternative acquisition authorities, CSO focuses on the speed of procurement, iterative funding and innovative technologies into government. 

A spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary of Defense told Nextgov they hope to have a working prototype of the AI system within 12 months or less. After the prototype, the department will consider awarding a follow-up production contract and potentially scale the tech across the Pentagon, the spokesperson said.

As the country faces a growing array of technological threats, the federal agencies are looking to make it easier for the government to partner with startups and other non-traditional vendors that are on the cutting-edge of technologies like artificial intelligence. The Pentagon created DIU in 2015 to help the military cement ties with the startup community, and last year officials renamed the agency to signal its importance to the department’s mission.

DIU’s work centers largely on making it easier for startups to navigate the federal contracting process, and the recent solicitation highlights some of the organization’s tactics. Interested vendors only need to submit a five-page or 15-slide description of their product, a low lift compared to traditional procurement responses, and their entire response can be submitted using an online form.

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