NASA names first head of AI

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David Salvagnini will take on new roles as the agency’s chief AI officer, helping usher more cohesive AI programming across the space agency.

NASA named its first official chief artificial intelligence officer on Monday, bringing David Salvagnini to the agency’s leadership team as federal agencies look to harness AI in operational capacities.

Salvagnini’s appointment  fulfills a mandate from President Joe Biden’s sweeping October executive order on AI, which required agencies to designate chief AI officers if they did not already have them. This new role will expand Salvagnini’s current duties as NASA’s chief data officer, with an emphasis on establishing and executive a strategic vision for AI between NASA and external partners.

“Artificial intelligence has been safely used at NASA for decades, and as this technology expands, it can accelerate the pace of discovery,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a press release announcing the appointment. “It’s important that we remain at the forefront of advancement and responsible use. In this new role, David will lead NASA’s efforts to guide our agency’s responsible use of AI in the cosmos and on Earth to benefit all humanity.” 

Salavigni joined the space agency as chief data officer in June 2023, following his work in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as director of the architecture and integration group and chief architect. According to his LinkedIn, Salavigni has been an IT professional within the intelligence community for more than two decades.

“Like the IC, NASA is an amazing organization that will stretch me personally and professionally,” Salavigni wrote on LinkedIn. 

Salavigni’s appointment follows oversight reports recommending NASA refocus its internal action items on high-end computing, which directly impacts the agency’s AI application potential.

In 2023, the NASA’s Inspector General also found that the agency lacked a unified definition of AI, despite its presence across a slew of agency projects.