Vidrine previously served as the Department of the Air Force’s chief data officer, but said her new title reflects the central role data has in getting AI projects off the ground.
“You can’t create artificial intelligence without data. Eighty-plus percent of successful AI is based on successful data, data preparation, data quality. They’re [the] heart of artificial intelligence and data analytics,” Vidrine said in a recent episode of All About Data.
DoD and the Air Force are looking to become AI-ready by 2025, based on the recommendations of the National Security Commission on AI.
Vidrine said AI readiness for the department comes down to establishing a baseline set of data and AI skills for airmen and guardians, as well as making sure they have access to the digital infrastructure and tools needed to advance breakthroughs in AI research.
“It’s access to the datasets, it’s access to compute, and the algorithms that our total force needs to develop AI solutions from tactical squadron level challenges all the way to strategic. I like to say that our team always is focused on mission first [and] people always. So the drive to AI readiness begins with investing in our team, and we continue to make targeted investments to build that acumen,” Vidrine said.
To make sure its personnel has the necessary AI and data skills, the department is also piloting a national security-focused AI course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The war on talent is real. It’s not just here, it’s everywhere. And so we’re developing strategies to drive that talent, including software developers, data scientists, computer scientists, bringing them into our enterprise into our workforce, but really upskilling,” Vidrine said.
The course brings together senior leaders, general officers and senior executives.
“It’s not just about upskilling in AI. It’s about taking it to the next step to collaborate among each other to identify opportunities to synchronize efforts across the enterprise to accelerate digital transformation,” she said.
The department is also tapping into the talents of its “citizen coders,” airmen, and guardians who have developed AI and data skills in nontraditional ways.
“We are identifying those skills and placing those members, both civilian and military, into career opportunities, where we can leverage the most from their abilities. It provides them with an impactful career trajectory. And I think it’s pretty exciting to be in an organization where it’s OK, and actually encouraged, to have a non-traditional career path,” Vidrine said.
The department has several AI projects in the works. Its AI Accelerator project with MIT, for example, has airmen and guardians collaborate with some top AI researchers in the country.
“It’s about our airmen and guardian bringing that operational perspective to the research community, accelerating impactful research to support our mission,” Vidrine said.
The department, in partnership with its innovation arm AFWERX, is also launching an Autonomous Data and AI Experimentation (ADAx) proving ground. ADAx is hosted by the 96th Test Wing and is supported by Eglin Air Force Base.
Vidrine said ADAx is meant to help airmen and guardians experiment with this emerging technology.
“The first step was to really just say, we’re going to have a proving ground or a test area, where we can take the entry-level use case and scale it to the next level — so that we can actually make sure that it’s working from a mission perspective. Then we can actually scale it out across the enterprise. It’s really like a crawl, walk, run approach. We did the research, now we’re taking it into an operational test environment and then later on scaling it out from an enterprise perspective.”