DOD selects team with U.K. to tackle AI research

The Pentagon announced the selection of a bilateral team of researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom for the Bilateral Academic Research Initiative.

The Department of Defense has selected an academic team of researchers to embark on building frameworks for humans to “more truly team” with artificial intelligence.

AI is a huge focus area for the DOD, which announced Tuesday the selection of a bilateral team of researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom for the Bilateral Academic Research Initiative. The U.S. research team will get up to $3 million in DOD funding over three years, while the U.K. research team will receive up to £1.5 million from the U.K. Ministry of Defence (MOD) over the same time period.

The Bilateral Academic Research Initiative — BARI for short — supports “high-risk basic research as a bilateral academic collaboration,” according to the release. The initiative is jointly sponsored by the Basic Research Office in the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense and the U.K. MOD, according to the release. This is the pilot program’s inaugural year, which is focused on “artificial intelligence and collaborative decision-making.”

“This research should attempt to understand new phenomena or produce discoveries that would have significant impact on enabling new and improved operational technologies of interest to the US and UK militaries,” the funding opportunity announcement says. “The goal is to produce significant scientific breakthroughs with far reaching consequences in the field of artificial intelligence.”


Academic teams were asked to submit proposals “that build frameworks for new AI agents that allow the exploration of the ‘virtual human,’” which behaves “as an equal team member that can reason as well as its human teammates,” according to the funding opportunity announcement.

Dr. Maryam Shanechi at the University of Southern California will lead the U.S. team. Dr. Riccardo Poli at the University of Essex will lead the U.K. researchers.

But the aim isn’t to replace the human in the mix, and the initiative isn’t interested in proposals that try to replace humans or give them roles that don’t take advantage of “human strategic level thinking.”

Humans, DOD says, are better at understanding context, applying lessons, inventing the new and versatility. For example, humans are better at applying conscious critical thought or making something up “on the fly” and adapting it, the announcement says.

“The awarded team has proposed an innovative approach to create novel frameworks for humans and machines to be effective, collaborative teammates,” Bindu Nair, deputy director for Basic Research, said.


Dr. Kate Griffin, deputy head portfolio commissioning for defense science and technology in the U.K. Ministry of Defence, called the winning proposal “scientifically ambitious.”

Earlier this year the DOD also set up a center to explore artificial intelligence. Four areas of focus are planned for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, one of which will be increasing the department’s collaboration with the private sector, academia and military allies on the development of AI capabilities.

The department has also submitted an “extremely comprehensive” DOD AI Strategy to Congress.

“As artificial intelligence matures, we must redefine the role of computers in warfighting,” DOD CIO Dana Deasy said in August. “So how exactly will computers be seen as our partner?”

Samantha Ehlinger

Written by Samantha Ehlinger

Samantha Ehlinger is a technology reporter for FedScoop. Her work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and several McClatchy papers, including Miami Herald and The State. She was a part of a McClatchy investigative team for the “Irradiated” project on nuclear worker conditions, which won a McClatchy President’s Award. She is a graduate of Texas Christian University. Contact Samantha via email at, or follow her on Twitter at @samehlinger. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here:

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