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News | Aug. 16, 2018

Partnering with industry, academia to address hard questions

By Chasen Thoennes Defense Intelligence Agency

The need for innovation and the importance of partnerships with industry and academia in transforming the use of data throughout the intelligence community were constant themes during the 2018 Department of Defense Intelligence Information System Worldwide Conference. 


Of all agencies represented, perhaps none are more postured to make those talking points a reality than the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. The mission of IARPA is to invest in high-risk, high-payoff research programs to tackle some of the most difficult challenges of the agencies and disciplines in the intelligence community. IARPA accomplishes this by directly working directly with and providing funding to members of industry and academia.


IARPA Deputy Director Stacey Dixon noted the DODIIS Conference provided a valuable opportunity to meet and interact with people and organizations with technological expertise that can be leveraged to address national security issues.


“While we interact with a lot of partners from within the intelligence community, (industry is an area) where we haven’t had as many interactions,” Dixon said. “So, part of it is helping them understand who IARPA is and what we can do for them, and also throwing some of our harder questions at them to see if there are some solutions they can help us come up with.”


Dixon, recently selected by the Director of National Intelligence to become the next director of IARPA, identified biological data as a significant developing threat that needs to be addressed.


“The data I don’t think people think of as a weapon is biological data,” stated Dixon. “Synthetic biology, what people can now do to create organisms and compounds to cause harm is truly data that can be weaponized.”


Algorithms related to artificial intelligence and machine learning is another area Dixon highlighted as a potential security threat. Those technologies will likely play a big role in future intelligence community data gathering and processing efforts, but Dixon believes more focus should be given to protecting algorithms. 


“One of the things I feel we’re not hearing enough about it is the challenge of protecting data that will be used for artificial intelligence,” said Dixon. “Algorithms right now can be easily spoofed by impacting the training data, and a lot of the times we’re using algorithms that were trained on data that we had no control over.”


The outcomes Dixon hopes to see from the DODIIS conference are an added emphasis on the security needs of artificial intelligence and development of the ability to identify when both data and algorithms are manipulated.  


DoDIIS is the largest IC conference that brings together experts from government, military, industry and academia in order to tackle the information technology challenges and complexities impacting the mission user.