Most notably in this plan lies Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Google, turned executive chairman (Google is now a subsidiary of Alphabet). He has served on Apple’s board as well as being a trustee at Carnegie Mellon and Princeton Universities. He has aided President Obama on the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. According to Fortune and a statement from the Defense Department, he will be joined by up to a dozen people “who have successfully led large private and public organizations, and excelled at identifying and adopting new technology concepts,”
All of these technologically forward-thinking minds will come together in the Department of Defense to form the Defense Innovation Advisory Board which will “provide advice on the best and latest practices in innovation that the department can emulate,” according to a Pentagon release.
The idea behind this move is to get information from innovators and thought leaders outside of the Pentagon directly to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, in order to make the DoD more agile, adaptable, and strategic in its use of new technology.
“Obviously Eric Schmidt, one of the reasons he’s an ideal choice for this, given his business experience, given his own contacts within the innovation world, we think he’s got a long list of people who might be a good fit,” to help build out the other 12 or so members of this committee.
While the methods of communicating ideas and the structure of this organization within the Pentagon has not been fully mapped out yet, this change is probably overdue. It is vital that the government understands the depth and breadth of technology’s uses, and collaboration there is going to be key to staying one step ahead. The board will not be giving any military strategic advice to Secretary of Defense Carter, and will not be given access to classified information, rather they plan to be focused on areas in the vein of iterative product development, rapid prototyping, complex data analysis, and the use of cloud applications, all familiar areas to cover in the tech sector, but less familiar within the Department of Defense.
“They will not be discussing military strategy. This is about innovation, things going on in the tech world, that these people will have familiarity with that they can bring and share with the Department of Defense,” a DoD official said. “That’s not just hardware or that kind of innovation but even problem-solving tools, best practices in terms of business practices which could be helpful for the department.”
This article from Wired focused primarily on the FBI/Apple debate, but also discusses there having been tensions between the Silicon Valley set and the Department of Defense in the last few years following Edward Snowden, and the leaked information regarding the surveillance that the government was utilizing in 2013. This Defense Innovation Advisory Board shows that in spite of past events, the Pentagon realizes how vital keeping up with technology truly is.
One of the things that just came out of the Department of Defense, possibly in relation to this new advisory board, is that DARPA has recently announced that they will buy weapons made in people’s homes from everyday items. From Fortune: “The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is inviting everyone from professional weapon-makers to “skilled hobbyists” to think hard on the best means of turning off-the-shelf, commercially available technologies into weapons or systems that could be used against the U.S. military and its allies.”
This is another way of trying to stay ahead of the curve. As the worldwide public becomes more adapted to technology, and the wide swath of technology that is available to the hands of the average person gets ever more easy to come by, weapons can become more sophisticated and sneaky. This makes them much harder to find or predict. And it’s not just about using cell phones to trigger bombs, or making the bombs at home or of a pressure cooker, either. The U.S. troops and allies have been facing a wide variety of tactics, from small commercially-available drones hacked for weapons technologies to homemade signal jammers, all from items that can be bought online or even at your local chain department store.
“For decades, U.S. national security was ensured in large part by a simple advantage: a near-monopoly on access to the most advanced technologies,” DARPA wrote in a press release regarding the unveiling of the program. But that’s just not true anymore.
Regardless of if the Defense Innovation Advisory Board had anything to do with this new initiative, it’s clear that the United States has realized that to keep up with rapid technology, they must outsource some knowledge to the people using the technology every day, from Silicon Valley giants to the home tinkerer.