DARPA announced its Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) program, a key component of the agency’s broader artificial intelligence (AI) investment strategy aimed at ensuring the United States maintains an advantage in this critical and rapidly accelerating technology area. AIE will constitute a series of unique funding opportunities that use streamlined contracting procedures and funding mechanisms to achieve a start date within three months of an opportunity announcement. Researchers will then work to establish the feasibility of new AI concepts within 18 months of award. Through this nimble approach to exploring new AI concepts, DARPA aims to outpace competing, global AI science and technology discovery efforts.
“DARPA has established a streamlined process to push the state of the art in AI through regular and relatively short-term technology development projects,” said Peter Highnam, DARPA Deputy Director. “The intent is to get researchers on contract quickly to test the value and feasibility of innovative concepts. Where we’re successful, individual projects could lead to larger research and development programs spurring major AI breakthroughs.”
AIE is an agency-wide program, based on the successful “Disruptioneering” fast-tracked solicitation process pioneered by DARPA’s Defense Science Office, which supports a variety of technology development concepts. As with Disruptioneering, AIE will periodically issue special notices, known as “AIE Opportunities,” tied to topics of interest. The simplified proposal, contracting, and funding process makes it even easier for individuals and organizations to contribute to DARPA’s mission. AIE awards may be worth up to $1 million each, as described in each AIE Opportunity.
AIE continues DARPA’s five-decade streak of pioneering groundbreaking research and development in AI. Past DARPA investments facilitated the advancement of “first wave” (rule-based) and “second wave” (statistical-learning-based) AI technologies. DARPA-funded projects enabled some of the first successes in AI, such as expert systems and search, and more recently the agency has advanced machine learning algorithms and hardware.
DARPA is now interested in researching and developing “third wave” AI theory and applications that address the limitations of first and second wave technologies by making it possible for machines to contextually adapt to changing situations. The agency’s diverse portfolio of fundamental and applied AI research programs is aimed at shaping a future in which AI-enabled machines serve as trusted, collaborative partners in solving problems of importance to national security.
AIE Opportunities will focus on “third wave” theory and applications of AI. The projects pursued may include proofs of concept; pilots; novel applications of commercial technologies for defense purposes; creation, design, development, and demonstration of technical or operational utility; or combinations of the foregoing.