The Importance of AI in the Aerospace and Defense Industry
December 8, 2020Mercury Systems
What’s in store for the future of artificial intelligence (AI)? How is AI currently being used in the aerospace and defense industry to gain operational advantages? How is AI affecting all our daily lives? Mercury’s Karen Haigh, fellow chief technologist, provides answers to these questions and more. Karen, who is currently writing a book about the relevance of AI to electronic warfare, has made it her mission at Mercury to help customers realize the full potential of what can be accomplished with AI. She is also spearheading a companywide initiative to educate Mercury team members on the role they play in advancing the future of AI to deliver our purpose: Innovation that Matters, By and For People Who Matter.
Hello and welcome to MercuryNOW, a podcast series brought to you by Mercury Systems. I am your host, Ralph Guevarez, and today’s topic, The Importance Of AI in the Aerospace and Defense Industry. Joining me is Dr. Karen Haigh, fellow chief technologist for Mercury Systems. Karen is one of three members of our CTO group specializing in AI in the ever-changing role it is playing in the success of mission critical operations. Karen, good day and welcome to the show.
Hello Ralph and thank you so much for having me. I look forward to it.
Karen, before we begin, can you give our listeners a brief background on your area of expertise, please?
Sure. So my passion is AI for embedded systems. I have a PhD in artificial intelligence from Carnegie Mellon University from back before AI was cool; AI was born at CMU. CMU was also the first in the world to offer a PhD program in robotics. So I combined the two. My work was the first to use AI to create plans, execute the plans on a real mobile robot, and then use machine learning to close that loop and improve planning. In other words, it was the first to close the loop between planning, execution and learning. And as you know, this closed loop is crucial to all autonomous systems today. Since CMU, I’ve developed cognitive solutions for a variety of embedded physical systems, including smart home environments, critical infrastructure and systems operating out at the tactical edge. At the tactical edge these environments are really different from the cloud because they have hard, real time operating requirements, they must operate on small embedded processors and moreover they often have very limited or even no communications at all.
Thank you for that, Karen. We are very fortunate to have you on our Mercury team, working to help our customers realize the full potential of what can be accomplished with AI. My question to you is, can you please tell us what your focus is here at Mercury?
Sure. I joined Mercury as a fellow chief technologist in the CTO office back in January of this year, working for Bill Conley, our CTO. Bill asked me to help bring these revolutionary ideas into Mercury both internally and externally. In terms of looking outward and to the future, I’m tracking academic and customer trends, supplier capabilities, and working on AI related strategies. AI is probably the most disruptive technology of the modern age. It is literally upending the way we think about problems and how to solve them. And we just do not want to miss any of those kinds of developments. Internally, I’m working hard on educating our teams about AI, how AI will be used by our customers on our products, where AI can become part of our product offerings and also how to use AI to develop products and run our business. I also directly support a lot of our ongoing efforts, including everything from product configuration, to inventory management and even our COVID analytics.
Given my background in cognitive electronic warfare, I am also shepherding Mercury’s effort to bring cognitive techniques to the critical RF arena for signal understanding and generation, resource management and network planning. In fact, I’m writing a book about cognitive EW right now.
Wow. That is impressive, Karen. Thank you for sharing that. Can you tell me a little bit more about your book? What is it about and when can we expect to see it published, please?
The book is called Cognitive Electronic Warfare, An AI Perspective, and it’s being published by Artech House as part of their EW series. I plan to finish writing by the end of December, and then it has to go through government review. I hope it will be out by the summer. I’m aiming the book for RF engineers who are looking for a guide on how AI is relevant for EW. I describe the AI for electronic support, electronic protect and attack electronic battle management. AI also has some unique evaluation requirements, especially if it’s going to learn during a mission, so I spend some time talking about how to collect good data and then how to test and evaluate performance so that customers and end users will trust the system, even when there’s unknown conditions. People generally think that machine learning for signal classification is the ultimate goal, but AI can be so much more than that for EW. I believe that AI can and will be part of the system everywhere.
Thank you, Karen. It is fascinating how AI can be everywhere in an EW system. Now, what about other activities within aerospace and defense industries? How is AI currently being used to gain operational advantage and what’s in store for the future, please? Your thoughts.
AI is vitally important to aerospace and defense. AI techniques analyze data far more efficiently and effectively than traditional approaches. For example, data fusion techniques pull information together from a variety of sources and can recognize the impact of events and the intent of users and adversaries. AI decision-making tools support rapid response and long-term military planning. AI based autonomy enables teams to coordinate, manage resources and accomplish missions. Because AI is faster, more accurate and can handle more complexity than most humans, AI can give us a huge operational advantage. The DOD has jumped in with both feet, founding the Joint AI Center and the launching of DOD wide education campaigns starting with acquisitions personnel. If you look at the applications of AI across DOD, arguably as much as $20 billion is going to programs with AI on the inside, situation assessment, decision-making and autonomy. On the flip side, if we don’t jump in with both feet, we’ll be at a huge operational disadvantage.
To underscore the importance of AI, I understand you are spearheading the company wide initiative and literally have opened up the AI discussion to the entire Mercury community. Can you tell me a little bit more about this? Who can take part and why is this so important to everyone at Mercury and not just engineering or sales? Your thoughts, please.
I believe that AI is like math. One day it will be everywhere. We need to get our arms around AI, what it is and what is its future, because it will affect all of us, no matter what role we have at Mercury. It’s vital that we use AI to help not only our customers, but ourselves. I want every single employee to know enough about AI to know how to recognize a challenge that they are facing could potentially be solved by AI. For example, HR could use AI to improve requisitions and field candidates, program management could use it to estimate project effort, evaluate risks, and figure out when a program is likely to start. Operations could possibly use it for inventory management. We have a community mailing list and a community website. I organize speakers to present their applications and their technical approaches and then I post the recordings for our employees. I send out weekly micro trainings on small topics, just a couple paragraphs teaching a lesson about AI. For example, just before Thanksgiving, I did one on how AI is helping fight COVID. There’s been some amazing work.
So for example, deep nets can identify COVID from chest x-rays or coughing patterns. Agent-based simulation techniques have helped analyze the effect of different mitigation approaches. Agent-based techniques are better than statistics based models because they catch the behavior of individuals in local, regional effects. Employees should reach out to me if they’d like to join.
That is fantastic, Karen. Thank you for your insights on how AI is truly taking over the world. I could see now how it requires a team effort in understanding its impact and the role we each play to advance the future of AI deliver our purpose, innovation that matters by and for people who matter. I wish you Godspeed with the CTO group and I look forward to having you again on the show.
Thank you so much for having me. I look forward to the future and further discussions about my favorite topic, AI.
This has been another edition of MercuryNOW, a podcast series brought to you by Mercury Systems. I am your host, Ralph Guevarez signing off.
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