Back in the middle of December 2017, Rep. John K. Delaney (D-MD) introduced a piece of legislation called the Fundamentally Understanding The Usability and Realistic Evolution of Artificial Intelligence Act of 2017, or the FUTURE of Artificial Intelligence Act of 2017 (H.R. 4625). This bill, which I’ll refer to from now on as the FUTURE Act, would require the Secretary of Commerce “to establish [a] Federal Advisory Committee on the Development and Implementation of Artificial Intelligence” based on the assumption that “understanding and preparing for the ongoing development of artificial intelligence is critical to the economic prosperity and social stability of the United States.” Recommendations in the bill could develop significant business opportunities for vendors working in this technology space.
The FUTURE Act sets out first to define for Congress what artificial intelligence is: AI is “any artificial system that performs tasks under varying and unpredictable circumstances, without significant human oversight, or that can learn from their experience and improve their performance. Such systems may be developed in computer software, physical hardware, or other contexts not yet contemplated. They may solve tasks requiring human-like perception, cognition, planning, learning, communication, or physical action. In general, the more human-like the system within the context of its tasks, the more it can be said to use artificial intelligence.” It includes a set of techniques, including machine learning, that seek to approximate some cognitive task.
The mention of machine learning is key for today’s federal market because machine learning is the technology currently blazing the AI trail. Machine learning is basically “narrow” AI – “an artificial intelligence system that addresses specific application areas, such as playing strategic games, language translation, self-driving vehicles, and image recognition.” General AI, states the Act, “means a notional future artificial intelligence system that exhibits apparently intelligent behavior.” This latter type of AI is years, if not decades away.
Concerning narrow AI, the advisory committee that the FUTURE Act recommends the Secretary of Commerce establish will consider a host of market-related issues, including: the ethics of using AI, re-training the U.S. workforce to account for shifts in the labor market, and how the federal government can encourage AI investment. This latter point will interest government technology contractors the most.
Measures to be taken concerning how to encourage federal AI investment include examining the impact of AI on privacy matters, how laws and regulations might need to be changed, how agencies utilize AI to handle large or complex data sets, and how AI might save costs and streamline operations in health care, cybersecurity, infrastructure, and disaster recovery.
If the legislation passes, the resulting advisory committee would have approximately a year and a half to produce a report on the subjects outlined above. Those recommendations could include actions that agencies should take to implement AI technology and/or to change processes to accommodate it. This is where the rubber will meet the road as far as contract spending is concerned because recommendations can often lead to investments.
If the FUTURE Act passes it will give Congress a mechanism for tracking developments in the AI market and for recommending policies that will spur investment. Initiatives like the Modernizing Government Technology Act show that getting Congress to push the Executive Branch can take some time, but if the Legislature does get its act together on this matter, it should boost investment in AI across the federal government.
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