Kalaris Intelligence Conference 2018: The Art and Science of Intelligence

Director of NGA Robert Cardillo and CBS National Security Correspondent David Martin open the Kalaris Conference with a conversation on the NGA and intelligence. Photo Credit: NGA


By: Martina Hukel

On September 27, government representatives, private sector professionals, students, and professors gathered in Georgetown’s Gaston Hall for the 5th Annual George T. Kalaris Conference hosted by Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies in partnership with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The theme of the conference, The Art and Science of Intelligence, was organized to include two keynote speakers, as well as three discussion panels: The New Age of Artificial Intelligence, Delivering Advantage to Enable Decision Makers, and The Art of Alternative Thinking.

After Dr. Billy Jack of Georgetown University set the tone through his opening remarks about the critical intersection of art and science in intelligence and technology, NGA Director Robert Cardillo and CBS National Security Correspondent David Martin started the conference off with a conversation about NGA’s mission to provide advantage to policymakers. Mr. Martin focused the conversation on recent changes in NGA’s methods for pursuing their mission of delivering top-notch, actionable Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) to policymakers, intelligence professionals, and other agencies. Director Cardillo explained NGA’s engagement with commercial satellite companies, such as Digital Globe and Planet Labs, to obtain more area coverage around the clock to provide the United States with the best advantage. Director Cardillo also encouraged the students to pursue diverse interests because there is both a demand for data science and liberal arts backgrounds. Intelligence analysis requires both to yield the most accurate and complete information for policymakers.

The first panel, moderated by Eric Adams of Wired magazine, focused on the incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) into NGA and other intelligence agencies. Dr. Andrew Brooks, the Chief Data Scientist at NGA, emphasized the importance of developing AI in cooperation with the analysts utilizing it to ensure it satisfies the gaps in intelligence analysis and builds trust between the industry and the intelligence community (IC). Dr. Valerie Browning, the Director of DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, echoed the need for collaboration between industry and the IC to understand the reasoning and prior knowledge AI employs to make decisions, in order to improve and correct AI’s accuracy in future decision making. Expanding on the need to improve AI’s accuracy, Dr. Meg Jones of Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture, and Technology program discussed potential hazards of AI. Difficulties for intelligence analysts using AI, such as skill degradation, lack of situational awareness, and automation bias, stem from analysts’ concern for inaccuracy. Dr. Jones emphasized the need for balance between AI and human accountability, as well as the need for “keeping the human in the loop” regarding casual reasoning employed by the AI software.

Eric Schmitt, a senior writer for the New York Times, then led a panel discussion on what decision makers need in order to possess a decisive advantage. Justin Poole, the Deputy Director of NGA, started the discussion by describing the global stage that decision makers are working in as a “reawakening of the times of old”, with near-peer competitors engaging in conflicts. However, the key to dominance in the modern age is mastering cyber and the race to automation that “are not conflicts waged on a battlefield, but they are important nonetheless”. When asked about morale and government service in light of recent challenges between the IC and the Executive Branch, both Ellen McCarthy, Vice President of Intelligence & Analytics at Noblis, and Hon. Eric Fanning, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, emphasized that morale and the sense of mission employees derive from their work still resonates strongly throughout the IC.

Former Congresswoman and current CEO of the Wilson Center Jane Harman then delivered her keynote on the intersection of Congress and the IC. She emphasized three main points: the damage Congress’s toxic partisanship can do to the IC, the importance of the IC’s reputation in working with international partners, and the need for agility and imagination in future intelligence in order to prevent strategic surprise. After her speech, she sat down with Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings Institute and the event moderator, to discuss the necessity for joint efforts in combating the rise of China as a near-peer competitor. During this discussion, she addressed the students in the audience to pursue your passions despite obstacles that attempt to dissuade you.

The final panel for the day was moderated by NPR Special Correspondent Dina Temple-Raston and focused on the art of alternative thinking in the IC. Anne Neuberger, the Director of National Security Agency/Central Security Service Commercial Solutions Center, began the discussion by discussing how AI could guard against “group think” and act as a triage tool to help human discover new pathways of thinking. She expressed how policy has not adjusted quickly enough to parallel the globalization of communications and that AI has the potential to fill in the gaps. Ned Price, past Special Assistant to President Barack Obama and current professor at Georgetown, underscored the “need for alternative analysis to become just analysis” and that analysts should be trained to provided alternate options to policymakers every time. The discussion ended with all the panelists articulating the necessity of analysts to be curious, innovated, and imaginative while enhancing their conveyance skills.

In closing, Dr. Michael O’Hanlon expressed the gratitude felt on behalf of all the conference’s participants to the Kalaris family and NGA for facilitating this diverse collaboration to improve the nation’s intelligence capabilities and ability to safeguard national interests.

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