Young Professionals Briefing Series: Defense Innovation for the Twenty-First Century

Wednesday, June 29, 2022
REUTERS/Janis Laizans

Research Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations (her work focuses on defense innovation and the impact of emerging technologies on international security)

Head of Federal Strategy, Google; Former Executive Director, Defense Innovation Board; Former Senior Advisor for Policy Innovation, Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, U.S. Department of Defense; CFR Term Member


Military Fellow, U.S. Army, Council on Foreign Relations; CFR Member

Young Professionals Briefing Series and Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program

Our panelists discuss the future of defense innovation, the efficacy of public-private partnerships in informing U.S. national security and technology policy, and the future of AI, quantum computing, and cyber in warfare.

The CFR Young Professionals Briefing Series provides an opportunity for those early in their careers to engage with CFR. The briefings feature remarks by experts on critical global issues and lessons learned in their careers. These events are intended for individuals who have completed their undergraduate studies and have not yet reached the age of thirty to be eligible for CFR term membership.

RANOLA: Good evening, everyone. Thank you all for joining us tonight for our Young Professionals Briefing Series.

I’m Vera Ranola. I’m the director of membership at the Council on Foreign Relations. For those of you who have joined for previous discussions, welcome back, and for those who are new to this series, welcome, and we look forward to your participation this evening.

The Council intends to engage folks like yourselves through these briefings because, you know, we want you to have an interest in foreign policy, and if you’re already interested we want you to engage with us and the experts that are going to be joining us tonight.

And so a little bit about the Council is that we’re unique in that it’s a think tank. It’s a publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine. But we also like to say, first and foremost, it’s a membership organization, and we’ve got five thousand members from government, media, nonprofits, law, business, finance, academia. We run the gamut, and we’re, truly, a national organization with members spread across the country and even internationally.

Our membership rolls include the most prominent leaders in international affairs who come together to learn and engage in a nonpartisan conversation on a wide variety of issues, and within CFR’s membership of five thousand-plus there are about eight hundred term members who are part of the Stephen M. Kellen Term Member Program, and the program is designed for rising leaders across a wide variety of industries to give them an opportunity to interact with experts and business leaders in addition to all of the life members that they get to network with.

And so with all the meetings that we host, the Term Member Program is specifically designed just for them, and we offer roundtables and skills-building workshops and trips around the country and even internationally. And each year, a new class of term members between the ages of thirty and thirty-six is elected to serve a five-year term membership and, perhaps, you might consider applying for term membership in the future when the time is right.

So if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about the process and the timing. I’m at [email protected], and I hope you will continue referencing our website,, as a resource for content and analysis from our experts and our fellows, and you’ll be hearing from one of our fellows tonight, Lauren Kahn.

And a hallmark of our events is to have meaningful engagement with our speakers and, typically, half of the meeting consists of a conversation between our speakers and a moderator and the other half is preserved for questions from you all. We want to have a substantive and interactive discussion. So if you have a question, feel free to raise your virtual hand when we open for Q&A.

And, you know, we plan to slow down a bit in our programming during the summer but we’ll, certainly, ramp up after Labor Day and you’ll receive news about what’s upcoming in the Young Professionals newsletter.

So thank you again for joining us this evening, and I’ll turn it over to our presider, CFR Army Fellow and Council member, Colonel Myles Caggins.

Over to you, Myles.

CAGGINS: Thanks, Vera.

Hey, good afternoon, everyone. I know that out there today we have people from coast to coast and even joining us from Europe and the Middle East and probably Asia.

So it’s my honor to host the discussion today with two fantastic young professionals—Lauren Kahn, who’s a fellow colleague here at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Josh Marcuse, who’s covered a lot of ground in Washington and elsewhere in his career.

So we’ll start today with a bit of a discussion but we’re going to save plenty of time to get questions from you. I know there’s likely to be more than a hundred, a hundred and fifty of you joining us and there are a lot of questions that you may have on your mind for both Lauren and Josh. And as we still have more guests arriving, and to kick things off let’s start out by getting to know our panelists a little more.

Lauren, where are you joining us from today?

KAHN: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s wonderful to be here and be speaking with you all today.

I’m joining from Washington, D.C. I’m based in the CFR D.C. office. And so, yeah, I’m enjoying the nice warm weather. (Laughs.)

CAGGINS: Wonderful. Wonderful. It’s lovely and sunny here in Manhattan, New York.

And Josh?

MARCUSE: I’m, actually, in Batesville, Indiana, today but normally I’m in Washington, D.C.

CAGGINS: Batesville, Indiana. Well, this might be the first time we’ve had a check-in from Batesville for the Council—

MARCUSE: I’m pretty sure that it is the first time in Council history. Yeah. But I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

CAGGINS: Today, our overall topic is defense and innovation, and we have two experts who can walk through their backgrounds in academia, as well as practitioners on defense and innovation, and I know during my twenty-six-year career in the Army I’ve seen a lot of change.

When I first joined the military, we were still using floppy disk(s) on Windows—I don’t know, Windows Vista computers. It might have been Windows 3 computers back at the time. Our rifles have changed. Our Humvees have changed. I’ve seen navigation now in vehicles—when I started out in my career in Germany using paper maps with pens and pencils and wax paper.

So we’ve had a lot of technical innovations in the Defense Department and, certainly, the DOD is about the manage violence business. But innovation, technology, research, and development covers so many more topics.

And, Josh, I’d like to get some of your perspective of what you’re working on at Google and how it’s making our Defense Department the best and helping it continue to be the best in the world.

MARCUSE: Thanks. Thanks, Myles, and it’s really a privilege for me to be here.

I started my career as a young professional at the Council on Foreign Relations with Vera, actually, who you heard from. I’m not going to say when that was because that—you know, not to date ourselves.

But it’s really great for me to be on the other side of the camera, remembering what it was like for me as I was leaving college and coming to a place like CFR, and so it’s really gratifying as a term member and as a(n) alum of the staff as well.

You know, it’s a really exciting time at Google because just this week we announced the formation of a new subsidiary called Google Public Sector, which is going to be a new dedicated division of Alphabet specifically for serving the needs of the government and, really, the needs of the Defense Department and the intelligence agencies, and the unique requirements that they have is a prominent reason why we’ve decided to launch this business unit that is really dedicated on public sector missions.

So it’s very much top of mind, Myles. Our work, I would say, is really focused on the digital modernization, digital transformation, of government agencies—cities, states, federal agencies, as well—and we’re talking about defense today so I’ll say that, for us, it really is about even the very mundane aspects of just moving and processing and analyzing information and data all the way up to really complex and sophisticated things like the adoption of machine learning, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and those things.

And my team really gets to run the gamut of all of those different issues whether it’s, you know, geopolitics or cybersecurity, or privacy or data sovereignty, or, really, the really interesting things you’re talking about like navigation, which many times runs off of Google Earth, and the geo AI and geolocation services that we provide.

CAGGINS: Thanks.

Lauren, artificial intelligence—we’ll hit on some of that this evening, no doubt.

Lauren, you’ve written about AI and about defense innovation. What are some of the technologies you see emerging that will change the way nations conduct warfare or collect intelligence?

KAHN: Absolutely. I think, actually, now is the perfect time to be having this discussion. I think a lot of these technologies—artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, quantum computing, you know, related kind of enabling technologies that are more like electricity, rather, than, say, like a missile you can point to—I think, have been disruptive in the fact that, you know, it’s a little bit hard to imagine kind of all the things that they can do.

And so I think it’s an important time to have this conversation because I think, you know, we’re really seeing the first kind of mass use of a lot of these kind of technologies and little bits being introduced especially, you know, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

And so I think it’s easier to kind of conceptualize right now how these things might be used and how they’re going to be used in the future and how Ukraine is taking advantage of them, you know, how Russia is using them.

I think in the past, you know, when I’ve had to explain, you know, how I think AI might be used from a militarized perspective, I think it’s—you know, you get really concrete, very kind of jargony examples.

But I think now you can easily point to and have people understand, you know, oh, they’re using, you know, AI to create deep fakes, and then coupled with cyberattacks to kind of place, you know, more believable propaganda. Or they’re using AI and machine learning to interpret live battlefield data and kind of create a model for how countries are fighting.

So I think it’s a really unique time to kind of view how a lot of these emerging technologies, this new cohort of technologies, are, really, kind of starting to come of age and be introduced, as well as some existing technologies like drones and loitering munitions that we’ve had for a while, see how they’re really maturing and being used more widespread and for new cases.

I think an important thing to remember when it comes to technology it’s not a silver bullet, and so while the technology itself might be disruptive, but you can always have technology as it evolves used in new and unforeseen ways. And so I think that’s, again, being really exemplified now.

CAGGINS: You bring up something that we call ethics. A few years ago, Google was involved in what was called Project Maven and this was using technology, using AI, to help the Air Force do targeting on the battlefield.

The New York Times had a big expose on America and the sad and unfortunate deaths of civilians through drone technology, and some of the Google employees threatened to walk out over Project Maven and it was picked up—it was dropped by Google—a $120 million annual contract, I believe—and it was picked up by a couple of other companies.

But this goes to a question that might be on the minds or things that you grapple with every day of when are the machines doing too much; is there a time where we want to step back and say, well, wait a second, this is going to cause disruption in people’s lives or, perhaps, in the news we’ve seen that some of the AI is going to have a life of its own, become a sentient cyber being.

Your thoughts on that first, Lauren. Then over to you, Josh.

KAHN: Absolutely. I think it’s a valid concern. I think you get—when you get to these technologies, again, you have this 180-degree problem where—you know, we’ve seen Terminator. We’ve seen—we have Alexa in our house. We have Siri in our house. On our phones all the time.

And so this idea of people kind of understanding and having a conception for what, like, autonomy means and what artificial intelligence might mean and how AI can enable increasing degrees of autonomy, and I think that causes a little bit of concern, too, about what the realm of possibilities are.

But I think it’s definitely something to keep in mind, and I think a lot of companies and individuals are. But at the same time, I think there’s a greater risk. We want—when it comes to things like algorithmic bias and, you know, bias in algorithms, it’s a concern.

But we want things to work properly, and especially if you have an organization like the military using these technologies and they want to use them well and it’s, quite literally, a scenario of life and death in some of these cases, you want them to be effective and they’re not effective if they have some of these flaws.

And so I think it’s very important to keep those in mind. But it’s also important to recognize that there are systems in place to protect against this. It’s definitely something that needs—and we see states and especially the Department of Defense kind of working to get ahead of this. I mean, we’re seeing they’re reviewing ten years—ten years ago, they launched their autonomous weapons and semi-autonomous weapons policy, and we’re seeing they’re reviewing that now.

And so there’s—and since 2012, when it was first launched, we’ve had the creation of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. We’ve had—you know, DOD has adopted AI ethics principles and we had tech companies do the same. I’m sure Josh can speak to that.

And so I think integrating those and trying their best to get ahead on some of the regulation, you know, putting things in place to be reflexive and flexible when it comes to these technologies, actually, you know, maturing and coming to be of use, I think, will be very important. But it will be hard since a lot of this technology is driven by the private sector and it’s—you know, development and innovation is happening a lot faster than the regulation.

CAGGINS: Thanks.

Josh, in the news today, leaders in Washington are waving the yellow flags—in fact, the red flags, about TikTok, saying get it off the phones. The Chinese are burrowing in. It’s a Trojan horse. They’re collecting all kinds of information on Americans. We need TikTok out of American phone systems.

If the Chinese are doing it, though, if the Russians are doing it, why shouldn’t we do the same things to keep comparative advantage?

MARCUSE: Well, let me just say, I’m giving you my personal view. This is not a Google perspective on this issue. But I do think that it’s a really complicated and nuanced issue around data privacy.

So it is true that I do believe that the Chinese entities have unreasonable, even dangerous, access to information that is collected by TikTok. That is a privacy concern that, I think, we should all have. I think there are ways in which Chinese intelligence might weaponize some of the information that they might collect on TikTok.

But I would remind people to weigh the costs and the risks and the benefits of all these things because whatever information the Chinese might collect on TikTok pales in comparison to what they have already collected from Equifax and OPM and other hacks, and it pales in comparison to what was collected from Microsoft from Hafnium and SolarWinds.

So do I think TikTok represents a threat vector? Yes. Do I think service members or intelligence operatives or diplomats should have their access to TikTok restricted to protect their operational security? I do think so. I think that is a reasonable measure.

But I think asking Americans to get off of the TikTok platform is probably an unrealistic expectation of the degree of cybersecurity that they need to have, and if we look at what’s happening with cryptocurrency threats, with the weaponization of social media, of the attack on our democracy, fake news, the rampant neglect of cybersecurity across our own government, banking issues, SCADA issues, I just think we have to look at the full range of cyber threats we face and ask ourselves how to moderate this and, really, come up with some common sense things.

It’s not to say that China isn’t using a backdoor into TikTok. They are. But you have to think of the whole information space as being a highly compromised space. And we just need to—we need to look at a sort of holistic approach to cybersecurity that balances those different things.

You know, I don’t use TikTok. The people on this call probably should consider whether they, given their aspirations, want to use TikTok. But I don’t think TikTok is the greatest threat to cybersecurity that we face right now.

CAGGINS: Well, now I’m going to have to question every time I’m watching a cat video. Thanks, Josh. (Laughter.)

On to the future.

Josh, if you were—you’re part of the Defense Innovation Boards. I may be getting that wrong. But you’ve been in the Pentagon. You’ve been in these high-level meetings, and we have to make priorities in the Defense Department. Our budget has ballooned to over $750 billion, and there’s a lot of talk about fifth-generation fighters, new aircraft carriers, new rifles and camouflage for our land forces.

How would you prioritize DOD spending and where do you think we have more opportunities to fight the wars of tomorrow versus the wars of yesteryear?

MARCUSE: It’s a great question. I’ll answer in a way that seems evasive but, I promise, it isn’t.

I think what we spend our money on is much less important than how we decide what we spend our money on. So one of my passion projects since I left government is an esoteric but very consequential subject called planning, programming, budgeting, and execution reform, or PPBE reform.

The system that we use to make decisions as a nation on what we invest in was invented by Robert McNamara long before I was born and it’s changed remarkably little since that time. And, you know, Myles talked about all the different things that have changed in the course of his service to our country.

But the rules set by which investments decisions are made and the time horizon over which those decisions are made has not kept pace and that, I think, actually represents one of the greatest threats to our national security and great power competition.

And the way I would describe it is there’s a very important metaphor that is used in the military that every aspiring student of defense issues needs to know and it’s called the OODA loop, and I’m sure there are people on this call that are familiar with it. We probably have some fighter pilots on this call.

But it’s a really important mental model, and the OODA loop stands for observe, orient, decide, act, and it is the speed at which one fighter pilot in an aerial dogfight against another fighter pilot can see what’s going on and maneuver their aircraft into a position to win the dogfight.

The metaphor I would use is that we are in a bureaucratic dogfight against China, and instead of operating our fighter plane against their fighter plane we’re operating our bureaucracy and our economy against their bureaucracy and their economy. And so the turning radius of our way of life is defined by how agile is our resource allocation mechanism.

If you think about the time it takes for the decision-maker, who is our pilot, whether that’s the chairman or the president or the secretary or chairman of SASC, or however you think about this sort of unified actor, they—you know, when they try to move the throttle of our cockpit there’s a seven-year time lag before the plane moves. That latency in decision-making and the inability to reallocate resources to the priorities that Lauren articulated is the reason we’ll lose.

So it’s actually—I don’t think it matters how we allocate $750 billion over the next five years. What matters is that we can’t change our mind about anything in the next five years with those $750 billion, even if our life depended on it, and, in reality, our life does depend on it.

So PPBE reform and the PPBE Commission that Congress has just established is the acquisition reform issue of our generation. It is what I have described as the Packard Commission of our time. And for all of you on this phone—on this call, if you want to get excited about a topic in defense reform that’s going to shape your future, I am giving you an advertisement. Educate yourself about the defense budget. It is THE hot topic.

KAHN: I’ll just, quickly, reinforce everything that Josh said, especially when it comes to artificial intelligence, just because I’ve been in that kind of sphere over the past, you know, few years, and, really, just seeing that emphasized and emphasized again and again, where it’s very hard to, you know, change (players ?), or even if the people at the top and even if the people—the actual warfighters—want to implement these technologies, there are a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to get around that isn’t necessarily conducive or isn’t easily applied to a lot of these emerging technologies.

CAGGINS: The Defense Department that I live in and work in for most days is run by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers like me, some of the older Millennials. We have younger professionals on the call today, too, people who are mostly between the ages of twenty and thirty. Some of them may be future term members. Some of them are, I know, in the military now and, perhaps, other parts of the federal government.

Josh, what advice would you have, as you’ve navigated your career both inside and outside of government? You’ve also worked and supported the nonprofit sector, including groups that encourage youth to pursue careers in foreign affairs and national security. What advice do you have for these young professionals as they’re thinking about someday sitting in the E-Ring? Someday, one of the people on this call will be the next Robert McNamara making decisions on the budgeting process.

MARCUSE: I could only hope—I could only hope that’s true. You know, there’s just—there’s so many ways to answer that question, Myles.

I think the way I would try to offer, like, a pithy encapsulation is that we live in a much more rapid and interconnected policy, political, and information environment than the world has ever known, and a lot of the challenges that we face as a people that could be solved by one domain of our society working independently, I think, have been, largely, addressed.

And what we’re left with as the vexing conundrums, the puzzles, the Gordian knots of our generation, all have as a shared quality that they require tri-sector leadership to solve them and by that I mean government by itself can’t fix it. Industry by itself can’t fix it. Civil society, nonprofit organizations, by themselves can’t fix it.

So all of these things are these—not just complicated but complex issues that require the marriage, if you will, of different ways of thinking about problems over different time scales using different levers, operating in concert.

And I think if you look at the dysfunction and the lack of trust across each of these institutions, people are really losing faith in the ability of our institutions to solve these kinds of problems because the institutions haven’t adapted to this new way of working and people are losing patience and getting frustrated.

So when I think about the next generation of foreign policy leaders and, you know, the organization I started—Young Professionals in Foreign Policy—or term members or other groups, the model of leadership we’re trying to cultivate are people who are really training themselves to think in a very adaptable way across these boundaries and understand how to be coalition builders across these boundaries.

So there’s a great book by David Epstein called Range, which talks about generalists and different ways of thinking, and so I would say I think that is the mode that you should aspire to. It’s not so much, as Madeleine Albright said, a career ladder as a career jungle gym.

So it’s really not a question of, you know, how do I, you know, do one thing for twenty-five years, rise to the top of my field and become the best at it. Instead, I think it’s charting a course in your career that enables you to be exposed to a little bit of each of the sectors.

And so if I look back on the near twenty years I’ve been in—you know, working, I think the thing that was kind of my secret that I stumbled into was I never was in any one sector by itself. I always had so many side hustles. I was always in two of the three at once, and now I’m actually operating in all three sectors at once.

So I’m an advisor in government, I work at a tech company, and I’m involved in half a dozen nonprofit organizations. And so I think if you want to go faster find ways to be in more than one domain at a time.

CAGGINS: Lauren, you’re providing intellectual leadership on the topics of defense, innovation, budgeting, and you’re with us at the Council on Foreign Relations. You’ve had a great academic background. How do you—can you share with the group how mentors have had an influence in your career to this point?

KAHN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, coming—you know, I’m coming from a little bit earlier on in my career. I think the way that I have approached, you know, guiding what I’ve wanted to do and kind of staying in this realm of international relations with a focus on security and defense, I think what really drew me to that was what Josh said, was that it was interdisciplinary, and I think a really good way to study and focus on a lot of different things that allowed me the flexibility to look at—you know, I can look at—from an academic side I can look at this issue, from a tech side I can look at this issue, and from a private sector/academia side I can look at this issue. And I think that’s where a lot of the challenges that the world is facing are moving and so I wanted to be able to do that.

And so being an earlier career person and, you know, coming out of college I wasn’t really sure how to best approach doing that and what angle to kind of start off kind of approaching that from. And so my whole kind of ethos to it was just learn as much as you can and always make sure that you’re the least smart person in the room, right. I love to be in a room of people who know more than me.

And so, I think, honestly, the way that I’ve selected all the positions and all of the kind of career paths, you know, looking back on, it looks like it made sense but it was really just where am I going to get the best mentorship and where am I going to be able to grow and learn the most.

And I think I was really lucky. You know, I had previously been at the University of Pennsylvania, which has a lot of resources and access to great professors and academics, and then at Perry World House, which looked at the academia side but tried to bridge that gap very, very overtly between academia and policy. And now I’m more, you know, also in, you know, CFR that also tries to do that a little bit more—you know, work more directly in policy but making academia and research a little bit more digestible and to do events kind of like this.

And so that has been absolutely key to me. I wouldn’t be anywhere I would be without some amazing mentors that I’ve had, and so that guides how I decide where to go and will continue to in the future.

CAGGINS: Great. And, Lauren, you’re also building your brand. I’ve read a couple of your articles on Foreign Affairs, and for everyone who’s new to this, Foreign Affairs is celebrating its one hundredth year. It’s published out of the Council on Foreign Relations, and we accept open submissions at Foreign Affairs but the cutline to get published in there is pretty high.

And the readership of Foreign Affairs are people like you from all around the world who are looking to get a deeper understanding of the challenges, and foreign policy, security, defense, intelligence, economy, climate, environment, elections, and a myriad of topics are published there monthly.

So congratulations to you. We look forward to the next articles.

And for everyone, you can follow both Lauren and Josh on the socials. I see Josh is dropping in a couple of his links to his nonprofit organizations. So let’s use this session not just as an hour together but also to build relationships and build bridges and a sense of community.

One final question for you, Josh, that’s been on my mind, before we turn it over to our crowd here. You talked about the plethora of activities you’ve been involved with—leadership in defense sector, leadership in the private sector and nonprofit sector.

But about ten years ago you got married. You and your lovely bride have had a—what seems to be a happy and successful relationship. But how have you been able to balance it all? Man, I remember being on dates in Washington, D.C., a few years ago and answering my Blackberry, and it just didn’t work out very well.

How have you been able to keep the fires at home as well as in the professional life?

MARCUSE: Really important issue, as we all think about not just wanting to have a great career and an impactful life but asking ourselves what does it mean to have a good life and to be fulfilled and to have—I’m probably wouldn’t use the word balance because I think that is kind of elusive and misleading, but rather to have a kind—a sense of fullness and gratification in your life and to take care of your health.

And I would say it was really not that difficult in our marriage. It is really not difficult when we had children. But I knew it wasn’t easy when you have a family. When you’re dealing with two adults that can negotiate with each other you can find a way as long as you invest in the relationship.

When you have babies involved with whom you cannot negotiate and who have insatiable demands and for whom you’re the only person in the world that can meet those needs, it has to change how you think about that calculus, and it really challenges you to think about your values and you can’t only ask yourself, what kind of leader do I want to be? What kind of employee do I want to be? What kind of teammate do I want to be?

You have to ask yourself, what kind of parent do I want to be and how are my children going to look back on whether, you know, I raised them well or not and, you know, you think about that in the context of your relationship with your parents. And so it really forces you to put a box around all of these career choices and set some limits and some boundaries, and I say that because when I was in your shoes attending calls like this, I did not think that a future version of myself would ever say the things that are coming out of my mouth. You know, I never imagined that I would.

But I think one of the great features of human cognition and bias and psychology is that over time your preferences change, and I think that’s one of the things that really helped me, which was if you thought about—sort of thinking about your life in three- or five- or seven-year chapters rather than thinking about your life as its totality over, if you’re lucky, a half century of productivity, and the good news is, is that things that were really important to me when I was twenty-four years old, really, weren’t that—as important when I was thirty and, you know, when I was thirty-five and starting to have children, you know, those preferences changed.

And it’s OK to let your preferences change. But you do have to make some choices about what are the enduring preferences, the things you want to commit to, and you just have to prioritize those things. And I’m happy to talk more about it because people often don’t talk about it.

But I think of all the things I have going on in my life, Myles, this is the hardest thing that I have to work on. It’s the most difficult. Nothing at Google comes close to being as difficult as trying to be a good parent and juggle all the things you care about.

CAGGINS: Absolutely. Well, all the best to you and Cathryn for many, many more years of successful marriage and parenting.

I think we should open it up to the attendees. They probably have some things on their mind for both Lauren and Josh at this point.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)

We will take our first question from James Mismash.

Q: Hi. Good evening. Thanks so much for taking the time. My name is James Mismash. I do defense budgeting at the American Enterprise Institute.

I guess my first question or, I suppose, only if there’s multiple—(laughs)—is kind of I’d be interested to hear your all’s response to the preference for RDT&E funding in the recent budget cycles compared to procurement.

Over the past, like, decade we’ve seen the ratio of procurement to RDT&E slowly dwindle now to a record low ratio. Is that something that alarmed you all as well? I see the NDAA just bumped it up from, I think, like 1.12 procurement dollars—1.16 (dollars) for every RDT&E dollar.

Do you think that’s something that will continue to change or, like, how do you see that affecting so much money going into RDT&E, that we might not be able to take a lot of that into the field?

CAGGINS: OK. Josh, I’ll throw to you first and then, Lauren, if you have some thoughts on—

MARCUSE: Oh, no. I defer to Lauren. She’s an actual defense expert. I am not.

KAHN: I will just say that, you know, scouring a little bit of the details, I think—I am surprised. I would like—you know, I would like an endless amount for RDT&E and more. But I think when it comes to a lot of these emerging capabilities, again, they are being driven by the commercial sector.

And so I think kind of balancing it out about, you know, really kind of refocusing on about what Josh and I, you know, were talking about before on acquisitions might be a little bit more important and, like, make me worry less a little bit about that.

But, still, I would love to see more investment on that. I mean, I’m waiting for all of, like, the details on, like, the National Security Strategy and whatnot to come out as well to see how they’re kind of, like, thinking about it and if they’re going to acknowledge that.

But, yeah, it’s definitely—you know, we have a huge budget but there’s always something. You know, when it comes it’s, like, oh, like, what should we cut? There’s always—I always want more and more. And so I think, you know, I’m just kind of, like—you know, like, acknowledging that, you know.

MARCUSE: And I know I said I was going to defer to Lauren but I will say one thing.

James, I challenge you to have AEI write a report when you describe what comes after colors of money. Like, what could be less relevant than whether it’s coded as RDT&E or O&M or whatever?

Like, you know, I really think that we waste at least 25 percent of the budget because of the categories in which it’s denominated because of the accountability theater that daft members of Congress use as a substitution with their meaningless documentation in the Appropriations Committee.

So the question is not, like, are we spending enough on RDT&E or not. It’s, like, why is that still a category that anyone cares about, and at AEI you could propose a good alternative.

Q: I will add it to the roster and be on the lookout for the end of July.

CAGGINS: Thanks. We’ll go to our next question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Mark Kilaghbian.

Q: Hi. My name is Mark Kilaghbian, representing a company called Universal Basic Data Income.

My co-founder actually brought me into this organization. He, unfortunately, passed away last year but I think he would have really loved this conversation. So if you have time look up Shane Green. He was really an amazing guy in this space.

My question for you guys is what is the role of encryption and personal data management through both governments and consumers when it comes to security? I know some countries have played with the idea of banning encryption, especially in peer-to-peer messaging.

So I was just curious about the security concerns with both having encryption and not having encryption, and if there are any sort of objectives, from your perspective.

CAGGINS: About those messages on WhatsApp and Signal and Elon Musk’s desire to have encrypted messaging on Twitter, what do we make of that, Josh?

MARCUSE: I think we need to have privacy in our society, and our society is a digital society and without encryption there will be no privacy. So I don’t see any way to avoid that.

I know that it’s a great concern to people in law enforcement and intelligence, and for good reason. But there are other ways to gather intelligence and to enforce laws, and I don’t think we can really enjoy privacy and, frankly, our constitutional rights if we can’t encrypt our communications.

KAHN: Yeah. I would just say—

CAGGINS: Lauren, at CFR we use two-factor authentication. What do you have on this?

KAHN: Yeah, the sending the codes a million times. Yeah. (Laughs.)

I would just say I think of these things like a tool, again, to—you know, encryption is one tool that we can use to achieving data privacy and responsible use and conservation of data and I think that’s, like, the broader kind of question.

And so it’s kind of what Josh—you know, what he meant when we talked about TikTok a little bit earlier. I think it’s just really important as, you know, especially, again, coming from an AI lens. As we develop these models, a lot of what we feed them is data and, you know, the Department of Defense and police forces will have access to large amounts of data.

And so, like, setting the precedent for how that is going to be used and in what kind of capacity they’re going to be collected, I think, will be really important, moving forward. But, yeah, definitely data privacy is a huge discussion.

I think it’s also different when—I think one of the things to note, it’s just really interesting to see how different discussions are in the United States versus even Europe, for example, about data privacy and how, like, different countries approach these issues, especially if you try to get to any sort of kind of international agreement on standards or, you know, implementing artificial intelligence in the military’s context because then it gets down to the nitty gritty of how you get into all these—I guess, in the non-sexy components of it.

So, yeah, it’s definitely a huge question, moving forward. I’m very interested to see where it goes.

CAGGINS: Fortunately, at the CFR we have experts on all these topics and everyone should check out You can see our experts. If you reach out to them, they’ll respond to you if you want to nerd out on any topics like data security, cyber warfare, or any of the other topics that are coming up in this conversation.

Let’s go over to our next question, please.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Melodie Ha.

Q: Hi, everyone. My name is Melodie Ha. I’m a(n) analyst with the Defense Innovation Board, actually.

So my question deals a little bit with talent and recruitment. So I think we see a lot of really young smart professionals who want to serve in government but they face extremely high barriers to entry, whether it’s, like, the application process, position security clearances, et cetera, and, you know, personally in, like, my own life and within a lot of my friends and classmates I’m seeing a lot of movement from young professionals who are giving up on government and moving into the private sector where things, you know, quote/unquote, “move a lot faster.” The compensation is higher. There are other lots of really sexy benefits.

So I’d be curious to hear both of your thoughts on, you know, the tension when it comes to recruiting between government and industry and maybe some of the, you know, biggest organization changes that we need to see from government, especially DOD. Thank you.

CAGGINS: Josh, also, you’re starting the new Google public policy practice. We’d like to know, how can we join this new effort? You must be staffing up there. And what advice do you have for people who are looking to move into government or also into what you’re doing in Google that’s working with government?

MARCUSE: Yeah. Myles, I only want to hire people who’ve worked in government. So if you want to get—if you want to work at Google, like, you have to serve. You know, one of the things—the first thing I did when I got to Google a couple of years ago was I started complaining that so many of the people on our team had incredible background doing enterprise software sales, and that’s amazing. Like, we need them.

But none of them understood our customer. They didn’t understand the mission. They didn’t have the domain knowledge. I mean, I’m speaking—I’m exaggerating here and speaking in generalities but we had a huge lack of people that had customer intimacy, customer empathy, that understood it. And so I started hiring incredible people who were former public servants to give us credibility and domain knowledge and real understanding and so, right now, I’m pretty much exclusively looking to hire people who worked in government.

So, you know, my advice to you, Melodie, is, like, good for you for being, you know, on the team for the Defense Innovation Board, and, you know, I don’t look at these government careers in terms of what people do when they’re in government alone.

I look at what they go on to do when they leave, and I think we should all evaluate bosses not by what everyone on their team achieves but what everyone on their team goes on to achieve and what is the alumni network and the following of those people.

And so, you know, like I was saying before, I don’t think you need to commit to government service or any of you on this call commits to government service for decades on end unless that’s what you want to do, in which case more power to you, especially if you’re in the military and you’re expected to do twenty years.

But I think it’s very compelling to think about your service as a chapter and what you want to contribute and what you hope to get out of it and what you hope to apply. And I will tell you, I am extremely explicit about my desire to return to public service.

I told everyone at Google that I was going back to public service as they were interviewing me for the job at Google. I knew I would not be able to achieve the impact that I wanted in government unless I had walked the walk that I’d been talking.

You know, I had spent four years talking about digital transformation. I’d never done it. Everyone in DOD thought that I had, you know, started a company. I’ve been a VC. I wrote code. I was an AI researcher. They believed all these things about me that were all false, right. I was really just, like, a liberal arts major that liked communicating about these things and I cared a lot.

And so I wanted to leave government to actually—and to paraphrase Michèle Flournoy, to fill my intellectual suitcase so that I can come back to government and unpack it again and I think that that’s really my mission in Google right now is, like, training myself to be a more impactful public servant in the next chapter, and, you know, then I’ll, like, drain my bank account and, you know, come back out to the private sector again and replenish it again. And I think that if that works for you and your family, I think that’s a good blueprint.

What do you think, Lauren?

KAHN: Yeah. So I’ll just kind of answer this question, one from, like, a top level kind of academic-y perspective and then one from a personal level.

But I would say looking at it from an academic perspective, and I’ve written a little bit about on the challenges in the Department of Defense, in particular, to hire STEM talent, I think that there are high barriers to entry, like, for all the reasons that you mentioned.

I think, you know, DOD is solving some really, really interesting problems and people want to be able to solve these problems and want to be doing something that is meaningful.

But it’s not—it’s not super easy, as you mentioned, to hop back and forth. I think, you know, if you want to go back to, you know, government for two years and do research and do—you know, work at a private sector company, I think, especially if there’s, you know, classified things that you’re working on and you need to worry about your portfolio, what looks good.

So, I think, from, you know, looking at it from a strategy perspective, DOD in particular needs to make itself appear and kind of play the game when it comes to AI, at least, as a research powerhouse, and needs to really, you know, start to make it easier for people to say what I’m doing at DOD matters and I can also then translate that when I want to go get a job, say, at Google, in addition to having the experience of working at, you know—in government and providing that kind of intellectual—and there’s people (now ?) like Josh who are looking for that.

So I’ll mention that, I mean, the National Security Commission on AI outlined that pretty well in depth. If you want to go through the six-hundred-page report there’s a really good section on it, at least, about hiring talent that really outlines a blueprint about how DOD can go and do that and in government and intelligence, in general.

And I will say from a personal perspective I know we’ve kind of hit this home about this importance of kind of being flexible and hopping back and forth, and I think that’s how I’ve also approached it. I think, like, you know, I’m coming in from an academic background and I want to talk about defense innovation and I want to talk about emerging technologies.

And so I expect my next steps will be, OK, I’ve now, like, researched and lived at the top level; I would love to work, you know, in government and, like, see what actually is happening. And at the same time, if I’m working on these technologies, I think, you know, there’s a little bit of lacking of tech literacy. You know, I should also be walking the walk. So I’m at the same time, you know, studying computer science.

You know, I’m, like—I’m a liberal arts person at heart—you know, done political science and international relations. So it’s very much using a different side of my brain. But I think it’s very important and I’ve seen it already inform my work.

So I think this willingness to kind of always be learning and always be kind of coming at it from a different perspective, a different angle, especially, you know, as these problems become more and more interdisciplinary and you get, you know, crossover and these institutions working with each other, I think it’s increasingly important.

And if you’re looking for, again, to advance in your career, whatever that means for you, I think kind of having that approach is really important and will make you a strong candidate.

CAGGINS: And I’ll add that just this week, Under Secretary Shyu announced the Defense Department is partnering with historically Black colleges and universities to improve their research ability and to create a pipeline for STEM careers out of the HBCUs into the federal government, specifically, the DOD.

Among the problems that this solves is it helps the Defense Department develop a relationship with college students, and these are mostly American students so it’s easier for them to get security clearances so they can do some of the sophisticated acquisitions, research design, and technology projects that the Defense Department funds.

Also, for those who are in the private sector who are interested in coming into government, the Army has a direct commission program where we’re accepting lateral entries from the private sector, and if you’ve been a middle manager you can apply—a middle manager, let’s say, at Google, and you want to come into the Army to be a cyber officer you can come in, perhaps, as a captain or as a major and you don’t have to start out as a second lieutenant and go through all the wickets because we need your specific skills.

Let’s take our next question, please, Chris (sp).

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Brooke Tenison.

Q: Hi, everyone. I just want to check that I can be heard OK. Fabulous. Thank you.

So thank you so much for such a great conversation. This is just, like, lighting my fire again. My name is Brooke Tenison. I am a government trade economist is the short version without all of the extra offices in it.

But I kind of want to refer back to some other scholars. So I refer back to Claudia Goldin’s work that, basically, established that the gender wage gap and a lot of the gender promotion gap is, largely, due to a penalty on motherhood. And Caroline Criado Perez, who wrote a great book called Invisible Women—I highly recommend it to all of you—talks a lot about there are giant, very significant, gender gaps in our analysis of, basically, everything. I mean, she goes from urban design to car crash dummies. I see lots of nods. This makes me very happy.

So I also go into a lot of defense-themed meetings and see, quite frankly, mostly men. Oftentimes, I am the only woman in the room. And so can you all talk about how this is a strategic disadvantage, right, and what we can be doing better to address this?

That’s a big question. (Laughs.)

KAHN: I can start. I mean, it is a big question. It’s something I think about way too much, especially in, you know, recent days.

But I think, you know, this kind of ties back to the mentorship question. I think having people in your corner that will kind of help you and back you in those situations, I think, is really, really helpful.

In general and as well, particularly, you know, as a woman, it’s been helpful to have both, you know, mentors that identify as women and as men as well, in my experience, as well as just kind of knowing that you belong in those spaces and it’s important, like you mentioned, to have those voices.

I mean, it’s speaking to the, you know, you need to be in other people’s shoes, you know, not just the private sector and defense but also just there’s a lot of individuals—I mean, it speaks to diversity. Like, it’s very important to have diverse, like, voices in these spaces.

I mean, when it comes to artificial intelligence, for example, like, you’ve got to, like, even, like dispensers when it comes to computer vision, like, don’t recognize, like, darker skin tones and, like, won’t dispense soap, like, you know, in bathrooms.

So, I mean, like, if you’re thinking about implementing algorithms, you know, in a military (context ?), you need people to, like, be aware of these kinds of faults and issues. And so I think it’s a significant disadvantage if, like, companies and institutions aren’t thinking about these things actively and trying to work against—work to kind of promote that because it provides better solutions and, you know, ultimately, makes everything better.

And so I think just kind of—you know, it’s hard sometimes but just remembering that, I guess, and knowing that you’re meant to be there and you have something very useful to provide.

MARCUSE: I would just say, I mean, I’m so glad that you raised this. I think it’s an incredibly important issue. I’m very passionate about it.

A small thing I do is, you know, anyone that’s ever invited me to a panel has usually gotten angry messages from me because I am continually asked to be on “manels,” which I refuse to do, and that’s one small thing.

But, you know, I always try to, you know, recruit, promote, recognize, hold up, examples of women doing extraordinary work, whether it’s in tech, which has its own gender problems, or defense, which has its gender problems, or defense tech, which magnifies all of those problems.

So I just—I’m glad you raised it and I agree with everything Lauren said. But I would also say, you know, for any anyone who identifies as male on this call, just recognize this is an issue for you as well and this is something that we all have a responsibility to be allies and, you know, usually, it just—it’s more emotional work on the shoulders of women and we have a role to play in easing that burden and just being sensitive to these concerns and intervening when it’s appropriate.

CAGGINS: All right. Thanks. Let’s go to our next question.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Shannon Prier.

Q: Hi. Thank you. My name is Shannon Prier. I’m an analyst working in defense logistics and supply chains at the RAND Corporation, and I’m actually also a former CFR intern.

So, Lauren, I appreciate the work that you’ve done with the Council, specifically, your article with—on the JAIC and I’d be interested in hearing the panel’s thoughts on drawing the line on implementation of AI in defense.

So, for example, do you have any ethical concerns with incorporating AI for defense decision-making at the strategic level?

KAHN: Awesome. Yeah. A great question.

I mean, I think, you know, it gets to are we doing it—is it being implemented responsibly. I think a lot of the concern and a lot of these—you know, I’ve mentioned algorithmic bias and making sure things are responsible and safe, and I think when it comes to actually defense, a lot of the technology isn’t used yet and a lot of those questions, you know, will be applicable and will be worth considering in the future.

I mean, we should be thinking about now for the future but I don’t think that they’re being—I don’t think we’re necessarily, quote/unquote, “there yet,” if that makes sense. I think what’s more important, at least from my research perspective, is looking at how artificial intelligence in some of these, like, you know, increasingly autonomous systems are being used more locally.

I think a lot of the regulation that’s going to happen for these technologies are happening at smaller local levels and are happening, you know, in police forces and things like that and, I think, in my experience also in talking I’ve done some extensive surveys of AI and machine learning researchers.

You know, we mentioned Project Maven before—(inaudible). I think most researchers are—actually, especially with the recent kind of, you know, example of Ukraine, are more open to working with the Department of Defense than necessarily police forces and maybe local governments.

And so I think working—and I think it might be more actionable and easier to kind of work at ethics at the lower level first and then build up. And so thinking—that’s how I’ve sort of been thinking about this question and kind of what I’ve been interested in looking at the dynamic between.

But I do think that there are steps that—the necessary steps that are being taken at the government and federal levels are happening. I mean, I’ve mentioned, you know, the autonomous weapons policy and I think, you know, having the AI ethics principles and having the creation of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the new chief data and AI office, I think, are really important in kind of handling these questions and are making them, like, a core mantle of how they approach it, you know, from a policies perspective.

I think we now have the Emerging—we have all these, like, new institutions but the Emerging Capabilities Policy Office also is handling this.

And so I think, you know, I am hopeful. You know, they’ve got all the systems in place. They’re checking all the right boxes. And I—you know, as someone who’s seeing that defense innovation is moving a little bit more slowly I’m encouraged by this and not as worried at this moment. But, hopefully, it stays that way. But it remains to be seen.

CAGGINS: All right. We are—time for one more question. Then I’ll have a little last lightning round for Josh and Lauren. So we’ll take one more question, please.

OPERATOR: We will take our last question from Elliot Ji.

Q: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for this super helpful session. My name is Elliot Ji. I’m a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton studying international politics, and this summer I’m also a research associate at the Lawrence National Lab.

My question for the panelists pertains to how China builds its innovation capabilities relative to the U.S.

Now, Josh, you mentioned this very nice analogy when it comes to, like, two fighter jets dogfighting to try to catch the other’s tails. I was wondering, based on your assessment, what are some of the comparative advantages and disadvantages our U.S. system may have over China’s, which currently still, I think, follows a somewhat Soviet, you know, legacy of managing their talents and allocating defense resources.

So thank you so much.

MARCUSE: Do you want to go first, Lauren? Do you want to take a crack at it?

KAHN: Sure. So I’ve written a piece on it—I’ll drop it in the chat—but kind of, you know, a lot of what has been driving, you know, the worry about the United States moving too slow on defense innovation has been, you know, the rise of China and its emphasis on artificial intelligence.

I mean, they’ve really been investing a great deal and have, you know, announced these very lofty goals about—you know, especially when it comes to Taiwan, you know, using artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, cybersecurity, to launch, you know, amphibious assaults along with, you know, drone swarms as well as, you know, cyber tech simultaneously happening.

And so I think, you know, they’ve made significant progress, especially when it comes to military and civil fusion and kind of bridging that gap that we’ve mentioned a couple of times. But at the same time, you know, there are bureaucratic challenges, and it doesn’t mean that—because China is a little bit more autocratic and a little bit more top down in terms of how they can implement some of these things doesn’t mean that they don’t face the similar or related challenges that the United States is facing.

You know, we mentioned, you know, budgeting and acquisition. It has those same kind of systems in place that it needs to overcome. But it has shown ability to move a little bit faster. I will note that on it. But I will drop more reference to this paper in the chat.

CAGGINS: Josh, let me jump in. We’re about to run out of time.

But before we go, I want to see if you all have one more thing and to leave with our listeners today, and I’ll call this podcast, book, or website. One of the three—which podcast, book, or website do you recommend for our listeners today and what do you listen to on your way to work, or read?

MARCUSE: I love Masters of Scale, Reid Hoffman’s podcast about Silicon Valley. I think Reid Hoffman is a genius and the podcast is awesome.

CAGGINS: And Lauren?

KAHN: I will say for a website I stalk War on the Rocks religiously. I think it’s a great site in terms of getting some more, you know, on-the-ground perspectives on some of these issues and just have been putting out amazing content recently on everything that I’m interested about. I might be a little bit biased, but I can’t recommend it more.

CAGGINS: OK, and I like to listen to the CFR’s Why It Matters podcast. There’s a great session on there about hip hop and foreign diplomacy.

At the Council we like to start and finish on time. Thank you, Lauren, and thank you, Josh.

Thank you, everyone, for dialing in today and let’s keep these conversations going on social media and on LinkedIn. And you all have inspired me. I’ve learned things, and we appreciate your participation.

KAHN: Thanks, Myles. Great—

MARCUSE: Thanks for having me.

KAHN: Yeah. It’s been a pleasure.


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