Jul 05 2019

Agencies Must Learn How to Unleash the Potential of AI

Unless the federal government figures out how to deploy artificial intelligence effectively, its workforce and its mission will be left behind.

Maintaining a persistent technological advantage is crucial to our success as a nation. Artificial intelligence is not magic — it’s math that enables people to extract new value and patterns from data, offload repetitive tasking and devote precious resources to tackling the hardest problems that only humans can solve.

Unleashing the potential of an AI-enabled team extends beyond the code and algorithms. As detailed in a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Artificial Intelligence and National Security: The Importance of the AI Ecosystem,” the necessary supporting capabilities for AI technologies are found within the AI ecosystem.

Among them: a skilled workforce and knowledgeable management; the digital infrastructure for capturing, handling and exploiting data; the technology and a foundation of trust, security and reliability; and the investment environment and guiding policy framework. 

However, an underdeveloped AI ecosystem is the main hurdle to AI deployment facing the United States today.

MORE FROM FEDTECH: See how agencies are ramping up robotic process automation efforts.

Agencies Shouldn't Reinvent the Wheel with AI

Cultivating a healthy AI ecosystem requires time, money and effort to bring together the ingredients. 

The globalization of technology and the democratization of software have lowered the barriers to market entry. Sophisticated AI algorithms are available to anyone with data, a question to answer and computing power. 

As a result, the federal government cannot afford to reinvent the wheel. It must leverage commercial technology where it can, and invest in development unique to government where it must. 

Lindsey R. Sheppard, Associate Fellow, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Instead of playing catch-up, the U.S. should be driving the pace of AI deployment."

Lindsey R. Sheppard Associate Fellow, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Cold War vanguard technology development model that churns over years is not working anymore. Instead of playing catch-up, the U.S. should be driving the pace of AI deployment.

AI is strongest when it is applied to help humans solve problems and find patterns. The federal enterprise is rife with areas that would benefit from AI-enabled teams, including personnel management, logistics and maintenance, and cyberdefense. While the narrative of strategic competition often posits the U.S. is engaged in an AI arms race, the race is not to determine who has the best algorithms. The race will be won by the country that makes AI work best to support its national goals and values

In Government, AI Needs Humans to Work

Humans learn through experience while AI learns through data. The value of AI is derived from both the data it processes and the insightful questions asked by humans. As such, federal agencies must cultivate a culture of data excellence that elevates data to a strategic asset

To answer realistic operational ­questions in a realistic data environment, the workforce must have access to the right computing capability, data access permissions that balance security imperatives and up-to-date IT.

People also make data, algorithms, processes, organizations and strategies. Given that the barriers to education have never been lower, individual contributors, middle managers and senior leaders should all be leveraging opportunities to improve their skills

Against the backdrop of a rapidly shifting global technology landscape, the past six months have seen big moves for AI in the United States. The Department of Defense’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is open for business. The Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence was issued on Feb. 11, followed the next day by the Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy. 

While the priority technology is AI, the compelling narrative throughout each strategy is the federal workforce. To build an AI workforce and attract top talent, federal departments and agencies must develop the workforce we have into the workforce we need.

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