All about the Pentagon’s new AI chief


The US Department of Defense has Dr. Craig Martell appointed Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer (CDAO). “With Craig’s appointment, we hope the department will increase the speed at which we develop and implement advances in AI, data analytics and machine learning technology. He brings cutting-edge industry experience to apply to our unique mission,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks.

The CDAO role was created to oversee data and AI initiatives under an official at the highest levels of the Pentagon. The CDAO reports to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Since February, John Sherman has served as interim CDAO. Earlier in an interview, he said that the CDAO office is “about decision advantage” and “getting ahead of these competitors with the best insight and information we can have.” He also said the new CDAO’s mission is to raise the “waterline” for AI and accelerate digital development across military services and commands. As CDAO, Martell will be responsible for leveraging AI and analytics to enable commanders and decision makers to stay ahead of China – “the Pentagon’s pace challenge.”

Why does the Pentagon need an AI chief?

The US military’s use of AI initially focused on experimentation rather than frontline autonomy. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 mandated the DOD to appoint a senior official to drive the strategic adoption of AI and execute a transition plan. The Defense Innovation Board also recommended that the Assistant Secretary of Defense establish a high-level committee to oversee the Department of Defense’s AI strategy and ethics. In 2021, the department announced the creation of the CDAO role to achieve full operational capability by June 2022.

“The US is refocusing its geopolitical strategy on technology. This strategy rests on pillars like defense, alongside foreign policy, trade, etc. The Pentagon’s AI officer will play a crucial role in this regard. This person will oversee the projects like Autonomous Weapons that will help the US meet future challenges. There are many implications. One of the biggest is that the US is making AI the new “core” of its military, rather than treating it as a peripheral variable. That means the US could start using AI across the military spectrum, adding a new dimension to AI geopolitics,” said Abishur Prakash, geopolitical futurist and co-founder of the Center for Innovating the Future (CIF).

The CDAO’s office included the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center – responsible for implementing AI within the department, the Office of the Chief Data Officer – responsible for data management, the Defense Digital Service – responsible for finding solutions to internal data and security problems , and the Office of Advancing Analytics – the department that collects data and performs data analysis.

In December 2021, a Pentagon official discussed the inefficiency of various autonomous bodies, such as the B. the lack of symbiosis between JAIC, DDS and CDO.

Who is Craig Martell?

Craig Martell was Head of ML at Lyft, Dropbox and Linkedin. He received his doctorate in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania. However, Martell’s contact with the US military is limited to his service as a professor of computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School, where he led the NPS Natural Language Processing Lab for 11 years. He also acknowledged this in an interview, saying the Department of Defense needs someone agile. He said, “I’m new to the Pentagon and I don’t know what levers to pull.” The department needed someone in the industry who knew how to bring AI and analytics to the table at scale and quickly .

As CDAO, Martell’s first task is to identify the “marquee customers” and the systems his office needs to improve. Its budget for fiscal 2023 is $600 million.


The February Pentagon memo spelled out the responsibilities of the CDAO.

1) CDAO, in coordination with USD(R&E) and USD(A&S), will drive the DoD’s adoption of data, analytics and AI from operational prototyping to operations.

2) CDAO will oversee the Responsible AI Policy and Al Assurance Policy in collaboration with USD (R&E) and DOT&E.

3) In partnership with USD(A&S), CDAO will drive industry engagement around data, analytics and AI.

4) CDAO will provide technical assistance to USD(A&S) in data, analytics and AI technology sharing and program collaboration with allies and partners.

4) CDAO will drive international engagements to facilitate AI readiness and responsible use of data, meet requests and requests for data sharing, and integrate AI capabilities rapidly and at scale.

5) CDAO will assist USDC/CFO by providing access to the company’s financial data, process automation and reconciliations required to enable audit of the department’s financial reports.

6) CDAO ensures that Advana and other audit-relevant data systems under its control pass the audit.


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