2021 Year in Review
New Artificial Intelligence Division to Advance the Discipline
In June 2021, the SEI established a new research division dedicated to applied artificial intelligence (AI) and named Matthew Gaston as the new division’s director. The SEI is leading a national initiative to advance the professional discipline of AI engineering with partners in industry, government, and universities.
The AI Division researches the practical design and implementation of AI so that government customers have the confidence and knowledge to acquire, build, and deliver AI systems that address mission needs. Division experts build real-world, mission-scale AI capabilities and apply the lessons learned to the research and definition of processes, practices, and tools supporting AI system operationalization.
The division draws on work done by the SEI Emerging Technology Center (ETC), which initiated and nurtured AI engineering at the SEI under Gaston’s direction.
It is critical for the U.S. government to bring engineering discipline to AI as a key enabler for national security, and it is particularly fitting for the Software Engineering Institute to contribute to this discipline because of the university’s long history of leadership in this area.J. Michael McQuade
Former Vice President for Research, Carnegie Mellon University
“Carnegie Mellon University recognized early on the promise of AI to enable better, faster decisions at scale,” said former CMU Vice President for Research J. Michael McQuade. “It is critical for the U.S. government to bring engineering discipline to AI as a key enabler for national security, and it is particularly fitting for the Software Engineering Institute to contribute to this discipline because of the university’s long history of leadership in this area.”
AI engineering is an emerging field of research and practice that combines the principles of systems engineering, software engineering, computer science, and human-centered design to create AI systems in accordance with human needs for mission outcomes. This discipline will help the Department of Defense (DoD) and other government agencies meet mission goals by growing the body of knowledge to design, develop, and implement AI that is scalable, robust and secure, and human centered—the three pillars of AI engineering.
The AI Division released the initial definitions of these three pillars in June 2021 after collaborating with thought leaders in the field. The pillars support the goals of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy and inform the AI Division’s research projects in AI training and verification, inverse reinforcement learning, machine-learning uncertainty, and trustworthy AI.
As the home of the National AI Engineering Initiative, the division has also formed a steering committee of research collaborators, co-funders, and advocates in government, industry, and academia. The SEI was also a sponsor of the 2021 AI World Government conference, where SEI experts participated in panels and presentations and Gaston gave a keynote address.
Before joining the SEI in 2011, Gaston led research in industry and at the National Security Agency. Gaston has published in the fields of complex networks, machine learning, multi-agent systems, and operations research. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in computer science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
“I am very excited to lead the new SEI AI Division and to scale the SEI’s AI engineering capabilities in support of defense and national security,” said Gaston. “Using our initial work in the Emerging Technology Center and across the SEI as a foundation, we plan to build on the strong legacy of software engineering research at the SEI, initiate exciting new projects, work closely with world-class AI researchers across Carnegie Mellon University, and build a community of collaborators throughout government, industry, and academia.”
“The Department of Defense sponsored the SEI in 1984 to bring engineering discipline to the creation and acquisition of software,” said Paul Nielsen, SEI director and CEO. “Our goal in forming and growing the SEI AI Division is similar—to transform the creation of AI systems from one-time, custom-crafted solutions into repeatable, scalable, and reliable programs and services that can help the DoD achieve mission success.”
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