The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Kathleen Fisher: DARPA and AI for National Security

Kathleen Fisher: DARPA and AI for National Security

On DARPA's history, the Information Innovation Office, and the agency's ongoing investments in AI research.

In episode 103 of The Gradient Podcast, Daniel Bashir speaks to Dr. Kathleen Fisher.

As the director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office (I2O), Dr. Kathleen Fisher oversees a portfolio that includes most of the agency’s AI-related research and development efforts, including the recent AI Forward initiative. AI Forward explores new directions for AI research that will result in trustworthy systems for national security missions. This summer, roughly 200 participants from the commercial sector, academia, and the U.S. government attended workshops that generated ideas to inform DARPA’s next phase of AI exploratory projects. Dr. Fisher previously served as a program manager in I2O from 2011 to 2014. As a program manager, she conceptualized, created, and executed programs in high-assurance computing and machine learning, including Probabilistic Programming for Advancing Machine Learning (PPAML), making building ML applications easier. She was also a co-author of a recent paper about the threats posed by large language models.

Since 2018, DARPA has dedicated over $2 billion in R&D funding to AI research. The agency DARPA has been generating groundbreaking research and development for 65 years – leading to game-changing military capabilities and icons of modern society, such as initiating the research field that rendered self-driving cars and developing the technology that led to Apple’s Siri.

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  • (00:00) Intro

  • (01:30) Kathleen’s background

  • (05:05) Intersections between programming languages and AI

  • (07:15) Neuro-symbolic AI, trade-offs between flexibility and guarantees

  • (09:45) History of DARPA and the Information Innovation Office (I2O)

  • (13:55) DARPA’s perspective on research

  • (17:10) Galvanizing a research community

  • (20:06) DARPA’s recent investments in AI and AI Forward

  • (26:35) Dual-use nature of generative AI, identifying and mitigating security risks, Kathleen’s perspective on short-term and long-term risk (note: the “Gradient podcast” Kathleen mentions is from Last Week in AI)

  • (30:10) Concerns about deployment and interaction

  • (32:20) Outcomes from AI Forward workshops and themes

  • (36:10) Incentives in building and using AI technologies, friction

  • (38:40) Interactions between DARPA and other government agencies

  • (40:09) Future research directions

  • (44:04) Ways to stay up to date on DARPA’s work

  • (45:40) Outro


The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Deeply researched, technical interviews with experts thinking about AI and technology. Hosted, recorded, researched, and produced by Daniel Bashir.