NASA appoints 1st AI chief to keep agency on 'the cutting edge'

wide-field telescope view showing dozens of distant galaxies
One of the earliest uses of AI in astronomy was to pick out the multitude of faint galaxies hidden in the background of images. (Image credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Rigby, CC BY)

NASA has appointed its first-ever chief artificial intelligence (AI) officer, a move designed to ensure that the agency keeps up with a vital and rapidly evolving field.

That person is David Salvagnini, who was serving as NASA's chief data officer.

"Artificial intelligence has been safely used at NASA for decades, and as this technology expands, it can accelerate the pace of discovery," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement today (May 13) announcing the appointment.

"It's important that we remain at the forefront of advancement and responsible use," Nelson added. "In this new role, David will lead NASA's efforts to guide our agency's responsible use of AI in the cosmos and on Earth to benefit all humanity."

Related: How AI could help find alien planets and asteroids

NASA's first chief artificial intelligence officer, David Salvagnini. (Image credit: NASA)

As Nelson noted, NASA has been implementing AI tech for a while now, for a variety of purposes. For example, the agency uses AI in its advanced climate modeling work, to help get a better handle on the environmental impacts of global warming and how to mitigate them.

Salvagnini will be in charge of mapping out NASA's broad vision for AI development and usage, and for spearheading innovation with the tech.

"In his expanded capacity, Salvagnini will continue NASA's collaboration with other government agencies, academic institutions, industry partners and other experts to ensure the agency is on the cutting edge of AI technology," agency officials wrote in the statement.

Salvagnini joined NASA in June 2023 after working in the intelligence community for more than 20 years. Most recently, he served the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as director of the architecture and integration group, and chief architect.

Salvagnini is also a military man. He served in the U.S. Air Force for 21 years, retiring in 2005 as a communications and computer systems officer, according to the NASA statement.

There wasn't exactly a vacuum in AI leadership before Salvagnini's appointment; Kate Calvin, NASA's chief scientist, had been serving as the agency's acting responsible AI official.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.