In a 2015 speech delivered at the Willard Hotel, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bob Work, explained how the US military was embarking on a major program focused on driving innovation, cutting down development cycles, and maintaining the country’s edge over current and future adversaries. The strategy, dubbed “The Third Offset”, relies on fast prototyping cycles and an embrace of bleeding edge technology. A pillar in this strategy is an increased reliance on autonomous systems powered by smart, cutting edge sensors and Artificial Intelligence algorithms.
More than ever, the Department of Defense understands that military superiority is a function of technological capacity. With this as the strategic backdrop, it is perhaps no surprise that one of the United States’ most respected and accomplished war-time military leaders, US Marine Corps General John R. Allen (USMC Retd.), recently announced that he was joining the Board of Directors of leading Artificial Intelligence firm, SparkCognition.
General Allen’s list of credentials is impressive. He was Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), deputy commander of US CENTCOM, and most recently Special Envoy for the President of the United States. His deep experience spans decades and features operations in the Americas, the Middle East and Europe, including Operation Sea Signal in the Caribbean in 1994, Operation Joint Endeavor in the Balkans from 1995 to 1996, Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq from 2007 to 2008, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013.
Once he returned from his Afghanistan assignment, President Barack Obama appointed General Allen as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (or “Daesh”), where he led the complex assignment of building, from conception, a robust international coalition that would undertake a wide range of political, diplomatic, military, economic, and other efforts to thwart Daesh. In no small part due to General Allen’s stewardship, today the United States is leading a 65-member global coalition that is rolling back Daesh’s territorial gains in Iraq and Syria, advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces, and constricting Daesh’s financing and operational capabilities.
So what drew Allen to SparkCognition? Since its founding, the Austin based AI company has racked up a long list of accomplishments. It’s offering was named the most innovative application in the IBM ecosystem in 2014, it became the only US company to win the Global Nokia Innovation Challenge in November, 2015, and was named by industry-leading analyst firm, Gartner, as a “Cool Vendor” for Smart Machines in the same year. But most importantly, the company has acquired an impressive list of clients. For its customers, some of the largest global corporations, SparkCognition has built, delivered and deployed systems that act like human experts; they can detect problems with cyber physical assets, notify staff in advance and assist with remediation. These seemingly magical capabilities are made possible by the company’s specialized Artificial Intelligence algorithms that can predict failure, converse with users in natural language to prescribe solutions, and present not just insights, but the evidence to back them up. Precisely the type of AI platform that could be a game-changer in context of the Third Offset strategy.
While the third wave of Artificial Intelligence is a new phenomenon, Allen’s exposure to high-tech programs and the importance of incorporating bleeding edge tech into the Services is not. In fact, he has had a long history of involvement with complex programs that provide the Armed Services with a quantum leap in capability. In the mid-1980s, then-Captain Allen, as the Marine Corps Fellow to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), participated in the Center’s landmark study on strategic mobility, a critical area of American readiness and responsiveness to the Soviet threat and to global instability. In this study, Captain Allen was the lead researcher and writer on the next strategic airlifter, which at the time revolved around a variant of the C-5, or an as-yet-to-be-built aircraft, the C-17. His research and presentations on the comparative usefulness of these aircraft across the conflict spectrum, within the context of the CSIS study, contributed to final decisions being made on the next generation airlift platform. He has also been a keen observer of global strategic trends. As a general officer, he served as the principal director of Asia-Pacific policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. If being a military leader who fought major wars and spearheaded numerous military actions wasn’t enough, Allen has also demonstrated his poise and ability as a statesman who has excelled in building alliances.
Amir Husain, SparkCognition’s Founder and CEO, cites Allen’s distinguished accomplishments as a “soldier and a statesman” to explain the company’s deep interest in working with him. “General Allen has served our country with distinction for almost forty years and understands how critical AI and related advanced technologies are for securing our nation’s cyber and physical assets.” Husain continued, “General Allen is not only one of our most brilliant wartime military commanders, he is also a statesman and scholar with immense policy experience. This makes him one of a handful of global leaders with a profound understanding of the growing cyber-physical challenges the world faces.”
These cyber-physical challenges Husain speaks of are growing at break-neck pace. With episodes like the cyber attack on the Ukrainian and Turkish power grids, the ability to employ cyber capabilities to affect physical infrastructure has become a front and center concern for military planners, homeland security strategists and governments the world over. SparkCognition was founded to address these very challenges. The company’s machine learning models have been deployed at some of the leading commercial organizations in the United States, including multi-billion-dollar pump company, FlowServe Corporation, leading utility NextEra Energy corporation, and one of the largest wind operators in the US, Invenergy Corp. Through the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning techniques, SparkCognition’s software monitors sensors on physical and virtual assets, continuously learns from data, and derives intelligent insights to secure and protect infrastructure round the clock.
SparkCognition was founded to address these very challenges. The company’s machine learning models have been deployed at some of the leading commercial organizations in the United States, including multi-billion-dollar pump company, FlowServe Corporation, leading utility NextEra Energy corporation, and one of the largest wind operators in the US, Invenergy Corp. Through the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning techniques, SparkCognition’s software monitors sensors on physical and virtual assets, continuously learns from data, and derives intelligent insights to secure and protect infrastructure round the clock. The company’s technology is capable of harnessing real time sensor data and learning from it continuously, allowing for more accurate risk mitigation and prevention policies to intervene and avert disasters. This cybersecurity centered solution analyzes structured and unstructured data (including natural language sources) to identify potential attacks in the IT and Internet of Things (IoT) environments. The uniqueness of the cognitive platform is underscored by the fact that it can continuously learn from data and derive automated insights to thwart emerging issues, without the need to build manual models.
For his part, Allen is simply doing what he has done his entire adult life. He may be on a new stage, but he is working hard as ever to secure the United States and deliver every possible advantage to its defense services. When asked about his move from warfighter to a strategist for AI applications in National Security, the General pointed to innovations and advances in AI technology that are impossible to ignore; “SparkCognition [is] driving innovation in a field that is vital to our national security. Today, our country faces a great many challenges, but perhaps none as significant as the rapidly evolving cyber threats that compromise our nation’s critical infrastructure. SparkCognition is deploying next generation cognitive technology that is necessary to address these realities, and I consider this work to be a national asset.”
The significance of this partnership will become clearer over time. But considering General Allen’s incredible accomplishments on and off the battlefield, coupled with SparkCognition’s innovative AI technology, the potential upside for America’s burgeoning foray into AI-powered security is immense. Leaders like Gen. Allen, and companies like SparkCognition, are determined to ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of innovation.
Last modified: November 22, 2017