Inside the Pentagon’s AI Epiphany

The government has created a new office to advance digital and artificial intelligence initiatives.

Late last year, the Pentagon announced it was creating a new office to focus on digital and artificial intelligence (AI). As the U.S. government renews its focus on making strides in these emerging technologies, how will companies, and investors, fare?

In this video clip from “The AI/ML Show,” recorded on Feb. 2, Fool contributor Lou Whiteman describes the history of the Pentagon’s relationship with AI, and what the future may hold.

Lou Whiteman: We’re going to start with a wide view of what’s going on with the Pentagon and then dig down into a couple of companies with Jose. Very interesting with General Dynamics and now C3.ai, it’s interesting what they are doing it as well. But we talked about this we’re going to talk about, and I was going to make the old joke about military intelligence, but I’m not going to do that to you. We’re just going to go right by that and talk about what this is and more importantly, what it isn’t.

Just in December, the Pentagon created a new digital and artificial intelligence office. Now I got to say they had like seven or eight different offices before then. This means they are trying to figure it out, which is I think going to be a theme that runs through what we’re talking about. What it is, it is a huge opportunity. This is front of mind. If you go back to the end of the Obama administration, Ash Carter, there was a sudden epiphany that, wow, China is ahead of us in AI. We don’t even really know what AI was. The four of us at that time could’ve put AI into a proposal and probably gotten 100 grand from the Pentagon. That’s the way they were throwing money around, just anything that smelled of AI. It’s changed some, but this is a scenario where they are incentivized to catch up.

Multi-vendor, they are people all over the place in this, from traditional defense contractors to companies like the one we’re going to talk about a second. To that point, it’s a chance for others to get involved. We’ve seen Amazon, Microsoft, famously, Google got involved in an AI experiment with the Pentagon that didn’t go over real well with the HR side of the business. But this is bringing new vendors into the military space. What this isn’t honestly, after all I just said, it isn’t a bonanza. Five years ago, we would’ve gotten all those funds. Today, the Pentagon is a lot more cautious about what they’re doing with AI. They’re still interested in it, but I think there’s been a lot of thought about what it is and what it isn’t. The other big thing that this isn’t a movie script. If we all close our eyes and we say the U.S. military, artificial intelligence either War Games, if you’re as old as I am, or at least The Terminator is going to come to your head, that’s not what’s going on here and it won’t be for a long time. The name of the game is incrementalism. While it doesn’t make for as good of a science fiction movie, it actually makes for a lot more opportunities for these contractors, so it’s actually a good thing from the investor side of it.

Lou Whiteman owns C3.ai, Inc., General Dynamics, and Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Amazon, C3.ai, Inc., and Microsoft. The Motley Fool recommends Alphabet (C shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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