MIT partnership empowers acquisition officer with AI tools Published Jan. 31, 2022 By Jessica Casserly 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The Digital Directorate is partnering with the Department of the Air Force-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Accelerator to help acquisition professionals gain AI experience. Through the newly established partnership, Program Executive Office Digital provides the AIA with temporary program manager support via six-and-a-half-month assignments. In return, program managers have an opportunity to expand their AI knowledge through hands-on experience at the accelerator. The program managers also help the AIA run their Phantom Fellowship program, which brings service members from a cross-section of career fields and branches of service to the AIA for four-month fellowship opportunities. “PEO Digital is one of our key partners,” said Col. Tucker Hamilton, DAF-MIT AIA director. “When we most needed program manager support, they stepped up and also made the Phantom program possible. They’ve been with us since the beginning and continue to bolster and champion AI development and implementation.” Capt. Matt Ruden is the first PEO Digital acquisition officer to be temporarily assigned to the AIA under the partnership. “I would describe my role as the acquisition leadership of the AIA,” he said. “I help bridge stakeholder relationships and help to manage the Phantom Fellowship program.” Prior to his role with the AIA, Ruden served as the chief innovation officer for PEO Digital and was a key member of the Hanscom Innovation Team, experiences he says helped prepare him to excel at the AIA. “We’re the only uniformed unit in the Air Force dedicated solely to AI, so nearly everything we’re doing is unprecedented,” he said. “Working in a new space that has high expectations and relatively undefined day-to-day tasks leaves me with room to achieve incredible things. I had the same type of environment in my innovation officer role.” Hamilton agreed that Ruden’s innovation experience is an asset to the AIA. “I absolutely believe Capt. Ruden’s background provided him with the right mindset when coming into the AIA,” Hamilton said. “AI is an important and unique tool that can’t simply be approached using the traditional mindset. Capt. Ruden has brought numerous fresh perspectives to an emerging landscape.” Ruden is scheduled to return to PEO Digital in May and is already thinking about ways to use his AIA experience there. “I envision myself being a champion for AI, but more specifically, AI-ready data. All the data we receive from sensors, systems, and contractor deliverables should be conditioned in a way that is suitable and ready for machine learning in the future,” he said. The Phantom Fellowship is also opening up opportunities to help boost AI training for other acquisition professionals at Hanscom. “I think the biggest thing we need to focus on is AI education,” Ruden said. “We’re working a few things within AIA regarding education and the Hanscom Innovation Team can play a part in helping communicate that education push.” Helping acquisition professionals better understand AI data is one of the key priorities for the AIA’s Phantom Fellowship program. “Through a deliberate focus on building partnerships, advancing fundamental research, empowering Airmen and Guardians through education, and being a voice on AI policy, the AIA has set the stage for our unavoidable AI- and machine learning-powered battlespace,” Hamilton said. “We need individuals like Capt. Ruden to recognize how the battlespace has already changed and work to adapt our military to best leverage digital talent and capabilities.” To learn more about the DAF-MIT AIA or to contact Hamilton about partnership and education opportunities, visit https://aia.mit.edu/.