The Washington TimesU.S. intelligence agencies are seeking ways to develop artificial intelligence programs that may one day replace human analysts.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced this week that it is offering a $500,000 prize for the best means of using artificial intelligence to transform the controversial intelligence analysis process.

U.S. intelligence analysis, a major part of the $50-billion-a-year intelligence bureaucracy, has been under fire for years from critics who say analysts lack competence or have been politicized, resulting in a string of failures. Intelligence consumers often complain that secret analyses are often no more useful than public news reporting.

Recent intelligence failures partly to blame on faulty analysis include:

  • A decadeslong failure to accurately assess China’s large-scale military buildup.
  • The failure to accurately assess Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.
  • Failure to predict that the Arab Spring uprisings would undermine the al Qaeda terrorist group.
  • Missing signs that Russia would intervene militarily in Syria.
  • Failures to counter domestic terrorists like those in San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida, who were identified and investigated prior to their attacks.
  • Incorrectly forecasting that North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, would likely be more moderate than his father.

Because most intelligence analysis is secret, the record of analytical failures is not widely known. Congress, when it has reviewed intelligence failures, also frequently does not publicize the results.

Prior to taking office, President Trump was critical of U.S. intelligence agencies. In December, he said of the analysis of Russian influence operations targeting the election, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

The DNI said in a statement Monday that it is launching the automated analysis challenge called Xpress.

The idea behind the program is to “explore AI-based opportunities for generating analytic products that surpass those crafted by traditional, highly trained [intelligence community] analysts.”

The program seeks cutting-edge methodologies and tools that will speed up the process of providing intelligence to policymakers.

“Given the pace and breadth of international activity, the [intelligence community’s] analytic community is increasingly challenged to provide policymakers and warfighters with timely information and analysis on a growing number of targets and issues,” said David Isaacson, the program’s manager.

The goal is to speed up the process of producing and reviewing intelligence analyses.

More than 245 companies, organizations and academic institutions are taking part. The participants range from multinational corporations to high schools from 24 countries. The submissions will seek creative ways of producing analyses and disseminating them.

According to the statement, the contest seeks to produce “innovative algorithms” using news reports to identify the national security impact on an intelligence problem.