DOD Searches for a Responsible AI Lead as the Conflict Landscape Evolves 

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Alka Patel, the Pentagon’s first ethical AI expert, left for the private sector.

Officials confirmed the Pentagon is actively recruiting someone to steer its development of policies, practices, guidance, and metrics for buying and deploying artificial intelligence in a responsible manner—but they would not say whether an insider is serving in an interim capacity since Alka Patel exited from that position at the start of October.  

“The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is currently seeking a professional to lead the DOD Responsible Artificial Intelligence Program. Interested and qualified applicants should review the job notice and apply,” Pentagon Public Affairs Officer Russell Goemaere told reporters in an email on Tuesday. “As a matter of policy, we don’t discuss internal personnel moves.”

Launched in 2018, the JAIC is tasked with ensuring DOD can effectively scale and operate AI as warfare becomes increasingly digital and the U.S. adapts to the evolving technological landscape. A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act the following year in part prompted the department to produce its own series of ethical principles to inform its use of AI, and the JAIC was deemed responsible for steering their implementation. 

In early 2020, the center selected Alka Patel to serve as its first-ever “chief of responsible AI”—though her formal title wasn’t made public until a bit after she was hired. 

Specifically, she worked in that role to help operationalize DOD’s principles at-scale, through what was then deemed an enterprisewide “Responsible AI” framework. During her tenure, the department’s need for trusty AI only became more critical as cyber threats intensified and fighting shifted from physical to more online.

News of Patel’s departure from DOD surfaced early this month. Details regarding why she left were sparse, but she is now reportedly a vice president for government and external affairs at Comcast Corporation.

DOD’s Goemaere and Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby did not name an interim official serving in Patel’s previous capacity.

“I do not have any personnel announcements to make at this time,” Kirby told Nextgov at the Pentagon press briefing on Monday. “I think you've seen the secretary talk about artificial intelligence and his strong desire that we advance our capabilities in AI—but that we do so ethically and responsibly—and those efforts will continue. We have a team of experts here at the Pentagon that are working inside the interagency and with allies and partners around the world, and the secretary is comfortable that we will be able to continue to do that work.” 

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