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Potomac Officers Club Features Cynthia Bedell, COL Matt Benigni, Bakari Dale, Howard Levenson, Brett Vaughan on Expert Panel During The Cost of AI Forum

Potomac Officers Club hosted its The Cost of AI Forum, the latest event in the Data-Driven 2021 Series, on Tuesday to bring together the elite public and private sector leaders to explore the challenges and opportunities involved with integrating innovative AI solutions and infrastructures as organizations work to keep pace with evolving adversarial capabilities and rapid technological advancements across all domains.

The Forum began with remarks from Dr. Timothy Grayson, director of the strategic technology office for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who acted as the opening keynote speaker to discuss how defense agencies can build a more resilient, connected “system of systems” through adopting a less centralized approach and leveraging private-sector partnerships.

Following Grayon’s opening keynote address, the Forum moved on to an expert panel moderated by Josh Wilson, senior vice president of Service Lines and Technology for LMI, to discuss the measures that government agencies and industry can take to plan, prepare and implement enterprise AI ecosystems while minimizing technology disruptions in vital agency missions.

If you missed today’s Data-Driven 2021 Series event, visit PotomacOfficersClub.com to watch The Cost of AI and other GovCon sector webinars on-demand.

To begin the AI implementation discussion, moderator Josh Wilson first introduced Bakari Dale, director of Business Enterprise Data Analytics (EDA) for the U.S. Army. Bakari Dale opened his remarks with a few terms of algorithms for the virtual audience, including expert judgment, top down estimation, bottom down and bottom-up estimation, price to win and more.

Dale discussed his work as a part of the Army’s Office of Business Transformation (OBT), which he emphasized was a data-centric organization that uses data at speed and scale to address the latest business advantages and works to increase efficiency across the enterprise. 

“AI is software,” Dale agreed with earlier comments from Grayson’s keynote address. “I agree with that wholeheartedly, but I also know that there are algorithms associated with pulling data, conducting exploratory data analysis and building your machine learning model.” 


Brett Vaughan, chief artificial intelligence officer for the Department of the Navy, continued the conversation following Bakari Dale’s panel introduction to discuss the position we find ourselves in the current information and digital age and the challenges that presents for an organization that is 245 years old. 

He reminded the virtual audience that the Navy was not born in the digital age, but the industrial age so it has been a great deal of work to keep up with the speed of innovation and dramatic technological advances over our nation’s history, especially over the past few decades. 

“We’re on a short timetable with the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) recommending to the current administration and Congress that the Department of Defense (DOD) can be AI-enabled by 2025,” Vaughan explained. 

As he played the contrarian to some of the previous remarks surrounding AI as software, Vaughan expressed that he doesn’t see AI as “just software, but as a competency.” He explained that AI is a competency that swirls around a stack of technology, but stack is still very much sustained by people, which is really the art and science behind AI from his perspective. 

“My challenge is moving that 245-year-old organization toward digital fully leveraging AI as this information age shifts,” Vaughan explained. “I find it’s less about technology than it is about culture. For me, this is 80 to 90 percent about culture, practice and organization and establishing that competency.”


Cynthia Bedell, director of the Computational and Information Sciences Directorate for the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), shared her opening remarks as the third panelist introduced to keep the conversation going about the AI just being software. She acknowledged that fact, but also explained that AI is software that needs to run on a platform and needs a network as well, which is a significant issue for the U.S. Army because their platforms are actually quite small. 

“They maneuver in environments where most others don’t have to go,” said Bedell. “They have to operate on bandwidths that are very unreliable. How do we build this software to be resilient and reliable, even if there’s a loss of connectivity during some of the operations. That’s a big challenge for the Army.”

Bedell elaborated that one of the things the Army is doing to address these challenges, similar to what DARPA is also working on, is sprint challenges and posing these issues to academia and the service branch’s industry partners.

“It’s actually a very exciting time to be in this field and address these challenges that we have with our peer competitors who operate with a different set of ethics than we do. WE need to learn how to build what we want, share the data to protect ourselves and ensure that we are not damaging our allies, industry partners and more importantly, our warfighters across the globe as well as our citizens.”


COL Matt Benigni, who serves as the chief data officer for the Army Futures Command (AFC), joined the panel discussion and emphasized that we have definitely adjusted our perspective on this matter and allowed our mission needs to drive priority in AI implementation and focus on the key issues that matter the most.

COL Benigni recognized that platform is a very popular buzzword in this area. He described the concept as providing relief to dramatically reduce the time from development to market, as well as the cycle rate for iterative development for delivering software, reducing life cycle cost in both time and money, and increasing user adoption and mission impact at the same time as we’re working to improve cybersecurity.  

“These problems are important, but what we’re discovering is the concepts and platforms needed to fundamentally transform the way software and AI are deployed, maintained and updated in the future operating environment is really about the speed at which we need to adapt,” Benigni explained. “I think the question should be if we’re buying these things or building these things?”


Howard Levenson, general manager and regional vice president for Databricks, emerged into the conversation as the last panelist. He focused his opening remarks on the power of open source in AI and the influence that Databricks has had in this arena from an industry point of view. 

“I’ve been an open-source advocate for many years. I believe open source delivers a better development model with more security,” Levenson explained. “Some of the reasons for that are that the developments in open source are user-driven. Nobody developed something in open source that they don’t want to use themselves.”

Levenson also detailed the impact of enabling your workforce and hiring as an open-source platform, especially in such a highly competitive market and during such a crucial time. He went on to stress the importance of learning tools like Apache Spark or Tensorflow and that while a lot of different companies work to leverage AI expertise, that’s not just about open-source software.

It’s also about open data formats, open benchmarks for the company’s clients to evaluate and find the correct solutions to implement the best practices for artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities.

Visit PotomacOfficersClub.com to watch The Cost of AI Forum and other POC events on-demand. You can also learn more about becoming a Potomac Officers Club member.

On December 15th, the Potomac Officers Club will host its next event, AF IT Modernization and Digital Transformation Forum, during which notable U.S. Air Force and industry leaders will join to discuss how implementing zero trust principles, artificial intelligence and JADC2 initiatives can help the Air and Space Forces modernize legacy infrastructures and meet the demands of today’s warfighters in the constantly changing modern battlespace.

Winston Beauchamp, deputy chief information officer for the Department of the Air Force, will serve as the event’s keynote speaker, leveraging his deep intelligence community and military service branch expertise to deliver an insightful address focused on driving Air Force modernization initiatives to remain ahead of the curve and bolster national security.

Visit PotomacOfficersClub.com to register for the platform’s AF IT Modernization and Digital Transformation Forum on December 15th.

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