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Machine-speed, human-inspired: the innovation pitch that rejects all the stereotypes of government

Merging with technology with man and machine coming together and merging into one as a technological concept of human computer engineering joining together with the intelligence of people.

Key points:

  • Air Force says analysis and decisions need to be made at machine-speed to overwhelm the competition
  • Plans to merge the advantages of humans and machines, while staying ethical, moral and legal

Waiting weeks or months for research to be compiled, days for a decision to be made and then chasing a signature to proceed: this is situation normal for most bureaucrats, but one government organisation says this is too slow – humans are too slow – for the challenges ahead.

This week Air Force is pitching a new innovation plan and asking industry to help it create a combined human-machine workforce of augmented intelligence: the creativity and flexibility of humans, and the tempo and accuracy of machines.

What happens when an organisation stops tip-toeing around innovation and hits the afterburners? Air Marshal Leo Davies says this will mean shifting from being an organisation that uses humans to operate machines and cooperate with other humans, to one in which humans and machines operate together.

The vision is called ‘At The Edge’. It’s about refocusing the innovation work that Air Force was already undertaking into four streams that will help it reach its goals of creating a so-called ‘fifth generation’ fighting force and operating effectively at the edge of technology.

Those streams are:

  • Autonomous processing: development of artificial intelligence and machine learning that enable Defence to rapidly understand and implement broader AI developments in a transparent, explainable and trusted manner.
  • Advanced sensing: detect and track challenging targets in difficult environments and improve situational awareness.
  • Combat cloud: network integration, including machine-to-machine integration, that enables the unified distribution, management, and application of resources at machine speed.
  • Human-machine augmentation: develop human cognitive attributes and development pathways; human-machine interfaces; and operating concepts to optimise human, machine and combined performance.

Although much of it is esoteric, take out the military-specific jargon and you’ve got a set of aspirations that fit quite neatly into most areas of government service delivery.

The human-machine combination can be “ethical, moral and legal” explained Air Force’s deputy chief Air Vice Marshal Gavin Turnbull during the Defence & Aerospace Industry Conference on Monday kicking off Avalon 2019.

The refocus is part of Air Force’s existing plans to transform into a ‘Fifth Generation’ Air Force, a term that originally referred to aircraft technology generations, but since 2015 has become a generic term attached to everything from professional development to PTSD treatments.

Innovation lab reborn, again

The new research and prototyping is led by Plan Jericho, Air Force’s “sense-making” innovation lab that has embodied agility so completely that it is already in its third refocus since it was formed just four years ago.

It’s now being reformed into three components: Jericho Labs, sharing space and people with civilian research bodies in universities and industry; Jericho Analytics, which will facilitate the rapid and rigorous discovery and testing of ideas and insight through net assessments, wargaming and red teaming; Jericho Edge, reaching out across the Air Force and its partners to identify, and make sense of, opportunities.

The team behind Jericho identified the four new priority areas after extensive rounds of experiments over the last four years. They called them “shocks”, referencing the impact risk of being left behind their competitors, and turned them into opportunities to pursue.

They weren’t rewarded with a ballooning budget or empire of staff, rather Jericho will remain a small team. Success will be measured by its ability to enable others to find and exploit the opportunities of highest impact.

Other government agencies, industry and academia have been invited to join as partners in this work, although no specific benefits for partners were discussed at the launch beyond the growing of Australian industry.

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.