Air Force launches its own Artificial Intelligence chatbot

June 14, 2024

The United States Air Force is launching a new experiment with generative artificial intelligence. The AI chatbot, called NIPRGPT, will be available exclusively to service members and contractors to get assistance and human-like conversations related to Air Force matters from AI.

The chatbot will help the Air Force with “correspondence, background papers and code, all within a secure computing environment,” according to the announcement.

“Technology is learned by doing,” said Chandra Donelson, the Air Force’s acting chief data and artificial intelligence officer. “As our warfighters, who are closest to the problems, are learning the technology, we are leveraging their insights to inform future policy, acquisition and investment decisions.”

The acronym NIPRGPT stands for Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network, with GPT standing for generative pre-trained transformer, which is a type of language processing technology central to the rise of generative artificial intelligence. After collaboration between technology companies and academic institutions, the technology was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate in Rome, New York, through a program called Dark Saber.

With a name that references the Star Wars franchise, Dark Saber is an initiative to bring cutting-edge software engineering to use by the U.S. Air Force, the Space Force and the Department of Defense. The group trains, mentors and collaborates with members of the Air Force to cultivate “strong technical skill sets that will turn into game-changing technologies,” according to its website.

Over the past year, AI chatbots have become widely utilized both for personal uses and in some cases, in the workplace. First driven by the rise of Chat GPT, the market for AI chatbots has ballooned with numerous offerings from start-ups and established technology companies. However, the Air Force, like many government institutions, has security policy that prevents its employees from interacting with these chatbots in their professional capacity.

“NIPRGPT is a critical bridge to ensure we get the best tools we have into our team’s hands while larger commercial tools are navigating our intense security parameters and other processes,” said Alexis Bonnell, chief information officer for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

NIPRGPT is designed to fit the parameters laid out in a memo by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management describing the responsible use of generative AI for government workers. In April, the White House released a policy on the responsible use of AI, giving federal agencies until Dec. 1 to implement measures aimed at increasing transparency around how the emerging technology is being utilized.

Upon launching the chatbot, registration to use NIPRGPT was opened to “civilian and uniformed Airmen and Guardians,” in addition to contractors who hold a common access card with the Department of Defense. Within days of opening registration, Dark Saber received a flood of interest, resulting in the group closing registration indefinitely due to high demand.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

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