Editor’s note: Last fall, Stanford University hosted a brand-new class—Technology, Innovation, and Modern War. This year, the course is once again being taught by Steve Blank, Joe Felter, and Raj Shah, but they have broadened the scope to examine how technology and innovation impact the whole-of-government approach necessary to successfully compete with great power rivals. Once again, Steve Blank is writing about each class session and offering MWI readers the opportunity to follow along with the new course. Read about previous sessions here.
We just completed the fifth week of our new national security class at Stanford—Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition. Joe Felter, Raj Shah, and I designed the class to cover how technology will shape all elements of national power.
In previous classes, we learned about the elements of national power—a combination of a country’s diplomacy, information, military, and economic strength, along with finance, intelligence, and law enforcement (captured by the acronym DIME-FIL). We also learned about the ongoing strategic competition with China and with Russia. And we discussed the impact commercial technologies have on DIME-FIL.
In class five, we turn our attention to artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Class Five Required Reading
Introduction to AI
- Andrew Ng “Machine Learning” (video), Coursera.
- “Reinforcement Learning Basics” (video), Udacity, June 6, 2016.
- [Optional] Stuart Russell & Peter Norvig, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, 2021. (This is the authoritative textbook on AI for students looking for a great resource beyond the end of class).
The AI Arms Race: Fact or Fiction?
- Nicholas Thompson and Ian Bremer, “The AI Cold War That Threatens Us All,” WIRED, October 23, 2018.
- Kai-fu Lee, “Why China Can Do AI More Quickly and Effectively Than the US,” WIRED, October 23, 2018.
- Paul Scharre, “Debunking the AI Arms Race Theory,” Texas National Security Review, Summer 2021.
- Greg Allen and Taniel Chan, “Artificial Intelligence and National Security,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, July 2017. (Read the seven-page executive summary but the whole report is great).
China’s AI Strategy
- Jeffrey Ding, “China’s Current Capabilities, Policies, and Industrial Ecosystem in AI,” Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 7, 2019.
- Helen Toner, “Technology, Trade, and Military-Civil Fusion: China’s Pursuit of Artificial Intelligence, New Materials, and New Energy,” Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 7, 2019.
- Ryan Fedasiuk, Jennifer Melot, and Ben Murphy, “Harnessed Lightning: How the Chinese Military is Adopting Artificial Intelligence,” Center for Security and Emerging Technology, October 2021.
Russian AI Strategy
- Jeffrey Edmonds, Samuel Bendett, Anya Fink, et al, “Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy in Russia,” Center for Naval Analyses, May 2021.
US AI Strategy under the Obama Administration
- Ed Felten, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence,” Obama White House Archives, May 3, 2016.
- “The National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan,” National Science and Technology Council, October 2016.
US AI Strategy under the Trump Administration
- “Summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy,” Department of Defense.
- “The White House Launches the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office,” White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, January 12, 2021.
US AI Strategy under the Biden Administration
- “The Biden Administration Launches the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource Task Force,” The White House, June 10, 2021.
- “Final Report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence,” 2021. (Please read the executive summary but the whole report is excellent).
Other AI and National Security Resources
- CNAS Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Initiative
- CSIS Strategic Technologies Program – Artificial Intelligence
Class Five Guest Speakers
Our speakers for our fifth class were Mike Brown, Nand Mulchandani, and Jacqueline Tame.
Mike Brown is the director of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a Department of Defense organization that contracts with commercial companies to solve national security problems. Previously Mike was the CEO of Symantec and Quantum.
Nand Mulchandani is the chief technology officer of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC). The JAIC is the focal point of the Department of Defense AI strategy.
Jacqueline Tame was the former acting deputy director of the JAIC and the architect of the JAIC Gamechanger, an AI-driven policy analysis tool.
Mike Brown led off the session with an overview of DIU.
If you can’t see Mike Brown’s DIU presentation, click here.
One key takeaway from Mike’s talk was that fifty years ago defense-related R&D made up 36 percent of global R&D. Today, defense-related R&D is 4 percent. Key technologies needed by defense today are made by commercial companies (5G, AI, biotech, quantum, access to space, batteries, etc.). A second key takeaway was that the top tech companies (Facebook, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple) outspend US prime contractors eleven to one in R&D ($70.5 billion versus $6.2 billion).
DIU’s role is to find and then funnel commercial technology into DoD by prototyping, transitioning, and scaling solutions. They have (by DoD standards) an extremely fast pipeline from problem curation, to evaluating and selecting companies, then prototyping projects and inserting them into DoD programs.
Nand Mulchandani described the role and the initiatives of the JAIC. One in particular, Gamechanger, was conceived and run by Jacqueline Tame.
Gamechanger uses AI to tackle a problem only a government could create. DoD and federal regulations have tens of thousands of policies, laws, and regulations that tell decision makers what they can or cannot do. These exist in different places on different networks and change almost daily. With Gamechanger, you could simply type a natural language query that asks, “Do I have the authority do X?” or, “How can purchase this item quickly?”
Class Five Lecture
If you can’t see the slides, click here.
Our first discussion in class (slide 7) was whether the claim by Nicholas Chaillan (the first Air Force chief software officer) that we have already lost the AI battle to China was correct.
Slides 9–14 kicked off the discussion of the geopolitical implications of AI. How will it impact all DIME aspects (diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic) of national power?
Class Five Discussion Questions
- How would you characterize the strengths and weaknesses of the United States’ AI strategy?
- How would you advise the Biden administration to pursue an AI strategy?
Next week the class will discuss autonomy.
Class Five Lessons Learned
- AI and machine learning are critical technologies that will impact all DIME aspects of national power.
- Most of the advanced work in AI and machine learning is happening in commercial companies and universities, not DoD.
- China and Russia have made AI and machine learning national priorities.
- The Defense Innovation Unit exists to find and then funnel commercial technology like AI and machine learning into DoD.
- The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is the focal point of the Department of Defense AI strategy.
We just completed the sixth week of our new national security class at Stanford—Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition. Joe Felter, Raj Shah, and I designed the class to cover how technology will shape the character and employment of all instruments of national power.
In previous classes, we learned about the elements of national power—a combination of a country’s diplomacy, information, military, and economic strength, along with finance, intelligence, and law enforcement (captured by the acronym DIME-FIL). We also learned about the ongoing strategic competition with China and with Russia. And we discussed the impact commercial technologies have on DIME-FIL, looking first at semiconductor manufacturing before turning to artificial intelligence and machine learning.
In class six, we look at the impact of unmanned platforms and autonomy.
Class Six Required Readings
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)
- Helen Warrell, “From Desert Storm to Soleimani: How US Drone Warfare has Evolved,” Financial Times, January 8, 2020.
- Kelley Sayler, “A World of Proliferated Drones: A Technology Primer,” Center for a New American Security, June 2015.
- Paul Scharre, Jacquelyn Schneider, and Julia Macdonald, “Why Drones Are Still the Future of War: Troops Will Learn to Trust Them,” Foreign Affairs, February 15, 2018.
- Erik Lin-Greenberg, “Game of Drones: What Experimental Wargames Reveal About Drones and Escalation,” War on the Rocks, January 10, 2019.
- David Hambling, “What Are Drone Swarms and Why Does Every Military Suddenly Want One?” Forbes, March 1, 2021.
- “Slaughterbots” (video), Future of Life Institute, November 12, 2017.
Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) and Unmanned Undersea Vessels (UUV)
- Ronald O’Rourke, “Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, October 20, 2021.
- “Sea Hunter: Inside the US Navy’s Autonomous Submarine Tracking Vessel,” Naval Technology, January 30, 2020.
US Unmanned Warfare Concepts
- “DARPA Tiles Together a Vision of Mosaic Warfare,” Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
China Unmanned Warfare Concepts
- Blake Schmidt and Ashlee Vance, “DJI Won the Drone Wars, and Now It’s Paying the Price,” Bloomberg Businessweek, March 26, 2020.
- Michael C. Horowitz, Joshua A. Schwartz, and Matthew Fuhrmann, “China Has Made Drone Warfare Global: The United States Must Join the Market or Be Left Behind,” Foreign Affairs, November 20, 2020.
Use of Drones in Nagorno-Karabakh
- Robyn Dixon, “Azerbaijan’s Drones Owned the Battlefield in Nagorno-Karabakh—and Showed the Future of Warfare,” Washington Post, November 11, 2020.
- Shaan Shaikh & Wes Rumbaugh, “The Air and Missile War in Nagorno-Karabakh: Lessons for the Future of Strike and Defense,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, December 8, 2020.
- Jack Detsch, “The U.S. Army Goes to School on Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict,” Foreign Policy, March 30, 2021.
Class Six Guest Speakers and Autonomy Panel
This class had seven guest speakers on unmanned systems and autonomy.
Our first guest speaker was Rear Admiral Lorin Selby, chief of naval research for the US Navy. Rear Adm. Selby is responsible for the naval research enterprise. It is the venture capital of the Navy and Marine Corps. It’s made up of ONR (the Office of Naval Research), ONR Global, the Naval Research Laboratory, and an office of special projects (PMR 51).
Founded in August 1946, ONR provided support for research at universities when World War II government funding to universities had dried up. Fred Terman, Stanford’s dean of engineering, received ONR’s first research grants for electronics and microwaves. These grants funded the Stanford Electronics Research Laboratory and kickstarted innovation in what would become Silicon Valley. Fast forward to this decade and ONR funded our first Stanford Hacking for Defense classes and is the first funder of the Stanford Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.
Rear Adm. Selby described the role of the chief of naval research, the types of innovation ONR is pursuing, and the role of ONR in capturing new and relevant ideas and pulling them in fast enough to compete with adversaries but not disrupt the functionality of the Navy.
Our next guest was Maynard Holliday the DoD director of defense research and engineering for modernization (5G; artificial intelligence and machine learning; autonomy; biotechnology; cyber; directed energy; fully networked command, control, and communications; hypersonics; microelectronics; quantum science; and space). He described the role of his office as similar to that of DARPA. His eleven principal directors lay out the technical roadmaps for DoD and help transition the technologies into operational use.
The principal DoD modernization director for autonomy, Dr. Jaret C. Riddick, then joined us. He helped the class understand the DoD definition of autonomy, the lines of effort DoD is actively pursuing, and why it was important.
Class Six Lecture
If you can’t see the slides, click here.
In the Department of Defense, unmanned systems and autonomy are moving ahead rapidly. We gave the students a feel for the scope of the activities being undertaken in two panel sessions.
Panel 1 – Autonomy and Unmanned Systems Research and Engineering
Rear Adm. Selby, Mr. Holliday, and Dr. Riddick joined a panel discussion on how their organizations set their research priorities and investment strategies. They discussed:
- what time horizon their organizations consider when determining which technologies to invest in;
- how these investment strategies and time horizons compare and contrast with the same considerations made by China and Russia;
- what the future of autonomous systems looks like and the largest gains their organizations hope to make with investments in autonomy; and
- what ethical considerations they take into account when making technology investments, whether China and Russia have similar or different ethical considerations, and how these ethical frameworks affect America’s ability to compete.
Panel 2 – An Application of Autonomy: The Navy Unmanned Task Force
Four other experts on autonomy in defense joined us for a discussion of the US Navy Unmanned Task Force: Michael Stewart, director of the task force and deputy director, integrated warfare; Bradley Garber, deputy director and principal civilian advisor to the vice chief of naval operations; Dr. Jason Stack, the ONR portfolio manager for autonomy; and Dr. Shane Arnott, chief engineer at Anduril Industries. They discussed:
- the impetus for the creation of their task forces;
- the biggest challenges and opportunities for integrating autonomy from the private sector to support DoD;
- what the future of autonomous systems looks like and the largest gains that their organizations hope to make with investments in autonomy; and
- where China and Russia are making the largest gains with autonomous systems, and what threat this presents to US interests.
Class Six Lessons Learned
- Autonomy and unmanned systems are critical technologies that will impact all DIME-FIL aspects of national power.
- While advanced work in autonomy is happening in the DoD ecosystem, commercial companies and universities still lead.
- China and Russia have made autonomy and unmanned systems national priorities.
- Other countries (e.g., Turkey and Israel) have proliferated systems that have been used to win a war.
- The Navy is actively looking to build and integrate unmanned and autonomous systems as part of the fleet.
Steve Blank is the father of modern entrepreneurship, an entrepreneur-turned-educator, and founder of the lean startup movement. He is an adjunct professor at Stanford and a senior fellow for entrepreneurship at Columbia University.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: John F. Williams, US Navy