If you ask Will Chambers, “deep learning” is the linchpin that will change the way Northrop Grumman’s customers process data into actionable information.
How is that possible?
“If you have enough data, these algorithms are going to outperform most state-of-the-art approaches,” says Chambers, a Northrop Grumman research and development engineer. “And that’s going to be tremendously important for automating various capabilities for warfighters and Intel analysts, which will allow them to focus on the mission at hand, rather than processing data.”
These algorithms can provide real-time situational awareness and multi-source data fusion – distilling all that data into actionable information for the warfighter. “There are many applications for deep learning and artificial intelligence, in general, coming in the next five to 10 years,” says Chambers.
Deep Learning in Action
Fighter jets, for example, operating in airspace with both allies and adversaries need to very quickly identify whether the aircraft hurtling toward them at Mach 1 is a friend or foe. A deep learning network could help the pilot correctly ID them.
Northrop Grumman is, in fact, already using deep networks in products, but they are simpler, niche tasks. And the technology still has a ways to go. “In a real-world operational setting, if you want a robot to make decisions based on what it has seen, deep networks aren’t quite there,” says Chambers.
However, recent advances are very encouraging. DeepMind, Google’s artificial intelligence group, developed AlphaGo, which in 2016 succeeded in beating champion Go players at their own game. “And Go is one of the most complex games out there,” Chambers said. “But deep learning can’t emulate human intelligence, it still excels in niche applications.”
Where is all this learning about deep learning taking place? The Autonomous Intelligence and Robotics (AIR) lab in Aurora, Colo., has about a dozen employees (including subject matter expert Chambers) focusing on these technologies under the direction of program manager Charlie Parkinson. Other researchers are in ES&T’s Data Analytics and Cognitive Autonomy group are working on a variety of applications ranging from image processing to automated ontology learning.
Coming to a program near you
Since this is a growth area for Northrop Grumman, the future looks bright for these groups.
For example, the Data Analytics and Cognitive Autonomy group has won a DARPA program for robotics swarm applications, and the AIR lab is supporting the robotics element of the contract. (DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the central R&D organization for the Department of Defense.)
“I’ve seen over the last several years that it’s being taken more seriously, with more investment,” says Chambers. “There are a lot of science and technology organizations coming out with solicitations calling for this capability.”
Are you interested in deep learning and artificial intelligence? Check out Northrop Grumman jobs in the exciting areas of deep learning, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.