DLA charges into world of artificial intelligence

By Jenny Balabuch, DLA Information Operations

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"Artificial intelligence" often conjures thoughts of Iron Man’s JARVIS or Star Trek’s resident android, Data. While there isn’t anything quite so advanced at the Defense Logistics Agency, a new virtual agent named VAL is available as a first resource to help employees solve IT issues.

VAL is a very basic form of AI. Employees simply type in a question ,and the virtual agent will return a list of suggested articles to answer. “What VAL does is learn which knowledge base articles are more popular on specific search subjects and then tailors her responses to meet those trends,” said Scott Pearson, chief of the Knowledge Management Division of DLA Information Operations.

The more employees use VAL, the better her answers will be — much like the Pandora radio app learns which types of songs and singers customers prefer. VAL is available to DLA employees 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to automatically respond to questions with a scripted format. The Knowledge Management Division will continue working to make the virtual agent a more user-friendly and useful tool, according to Pearson.

VAL is only the beginning of DLA’s journey with artificial intelligence. The agency is focusing on machine learning, a field within artificial intelligence, where machines take data and learn from it without human interference. Machine learning systems can sort through large amounts of data and make predictions based on patterns identified over time. This can contribute to demand planning, material availability and backorder prediction helping DLA to better serve the Warfighter. So far, 25 DLA processes have been identified that could benefit from AI/ML.

DLA’s Strategic Data and Analysis Division is working on an AI strategy that will include ethics and governance, to help lead the agency into the future as the team continues to explore the possibilities of AI and ML.