Defence eyes cognitive computing to strengthen information management

Uses on-premises version of IBM’s Watson

Credit: © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence

The Department of Defence has become one of the first organisations in the world to deploy a highly secure on-premises version of IBM’s Watson cognitive computing platform.

The platform is aiding Defence’s efforts to improve its information management capabilities, Matt Smorhun -- assistant secretary, ICT strategy realisation – told the CeBit eGovernment Conference.

Defence has invested a significant amount of money in weapons platforms that produce large amounts of data, Smorhun said.Information is probably the “biggest asset” that Defence has, he added. “And we have spent the last 18 months investing heavily in how we will build a program, not so much around new technology, but a program that says, ‘Defence, you need to work out how information can be treated as a critical asset to your business’.”

The first tranche of work has including building cognitive computing capability within Defence.

“You could spend a long time working out how you do artificial intelligence, what you might do with cognitive, what you might do with advanced analytics,” Smorhun said. “We said, ‘let’s just buy this thing and then kind of work out how that’s going to fit into our organisation. So we bought it. And it’s cool.”

Defence has run a series of workshops examining 14 scenarios for using the capabilities of Watson.

One that has been delivering “some quite sensational results”, has been analysing data repatriated following Australia’s deployment to the Middle East. That data tended to end up on hard drives stuck in shipping containers – for the most part unanalysed.

“We’ve started putting this thing into IBM’s Watson”, Smorhun said. Defence purchased a 52-million-document licence for Watson, and has fed around 40 million documents into the platform. It can respond to questions based on the data in around 16 seconds, he said.

“This is on data that no-one was ever going to get hold of in any way shape or form. And the lessons that are embedded in there – somewhere, maybe, hopefully – are of real value to when we deploy again.”

Another example has been analysing the performance of weapons systems using video of weapons tests. “Instead of spending all of those man hours calculating trajectories and working out with your geometry tables how you might do it better next time you shoot that little missile – this computer will tell you”

A proof of concept has cut from 6.8 hours to 2.2 hours the time spent tuning systems between tests.

(Defence has previously revealed it has experimented with using Watson for psyops.)

A second area of investment for the information management program has been decision support.

“Imagine you run a PMO that has $15 billion worth of investment in the broader asset portfolio of Defence – it has $10 billion spending on looking after those investments in an operating context, and then it spends about $10 billion on people on wages for military and civilians in the organisation,” Smorhun said. “And your job is to sequence that, provide advice on when it’s good to something, when it’s not good to do something and to work out all the interdependencies in that program of work.”

Today, within Defence that is facilitated through nine separate applications – all of which don’t talk to each other and require data to be manually entered and moved between systems, often using spreadsheets.

“And if anybody actually asks a question of some relevance, that takes a long time and lots of people’s effort,” Smorhun said As part of the information management program, Defence has worked on linking the systems, overlaying a common user interface allowing scenario analysis on the overall program of work.

A proof of concept that involved investing in a new knowledge management database has been delivering “some real results,” Smorhun told the conference.

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Tags defenceIBM WatsonDepartment of Defence (DoD)cognitive computingartificial intelligence (AI)

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