There is one key aspect of artificial intelligence (AI) that makes me view the recent popularity of the subject in a positive light: possibility. My professional career began at Raytheon BBN Technologies (BBN) in 2009, where I eventually led multiple research and development (R&D) teams as a Principal Investigator on Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) programs. Eventually, executive leadership named me as one of the company's leading voices at the intersection of artificial intelligence and cyber-physical systems. With the growing number of cybersecurity threats to peaceful national operations, it can be daunting to imagine a future in which world progress is halted by bad actors operating in various technology spaces. However, I started my career by developing enabling technologies that wield artificial intelligence to address national defense needs in protecting critical infrastructures (such as power grids), protecting user privacy, and assessing potential threats in unforeseen domains. As the public sees more examples of enabling technologies that can leverage AI to deal with these kinds of threats, the world can get to a place where we reduce the fear of nations having progress hindered by cyber distractions.
Right now, I am using AI to facilitate some of that progress in the fields of Climate, Aerospace, Biology, and digital policy. At NASA, I am using neural network models to speed up our climate models and fuse climate-related data to understand how we can protect our planet. I am also teaching AI agents to use physics, flight knowledge, and expert context to both enable an urban airspace and guide space vehicles further into deep space. I am working to fuse together humanity's body of knowledge on radiation health effects, and demonstrating the ethical implications of using AI to guide policy. AI simultaneously eludes many aspects of our world and seeps into hidden verticals in the most unexpected industries. I have seen first-hand that AI can have both negative and positive effects when applied to these new domains. Nevertheless, if carefully adopted, it has more positive potential than it does negative.
AI value for individuals and businesses
As an enthusiastic adopter, my activities in national security have been hardened and placed in US critical infrastructure. The everyday operation of the US economy relies on some of these capabilities. My NASA work has been implemented in missions that further our understanding of our planet and space. At the same time, this work is also being used to inform the latest innovations in Urban Air Mobility, the next era of advanced human transportation.
In most cases, these are very narrow uses of artificial intelligence. In general, emergent AI technologies represent information power levels previously unavailable to humankind. Through my work in National Security, Space, and Digital Policy, I am continuing to contribute to that body of knowledge and enabling world economy sectors.
As a scientist, I am committed to the idea that human beings can apply scientific knowledge for practical purposes that benefit both the individual and society. Technology is the realization of that idea, and in many cases today, that technology has some AI component. We refer to an idea as "disruptive" when technology is adopted and creates a new market or overtakes an existing market. This technology adoption enables many benefits for humanity to enjoy, through both utility and the economic environment that it facilitates. However, who controls the adoption of technology governs how it is adopted. And while much attention has been paid to newer actors in this space, such as Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk, the regimes that controlled significant sectors of the economy before the information age are still the ones that shepherd adoption. Technology's democratization has noticeably reflected the same racial and gender paradigms as before. The more technology can be democratized, the more maintaining these old regimes becomes untenable. It is an eventuality. Nevertheless, we must observe this democratization and use as many unique perspectives as possible to identify where things can go wrong, preventing harm to the innocent without stifling progress and economic growth. We can not allow "disruption" to play out in the 21st century as it did in the 20th century.