US Senators introduce ‘AI in Government Act’ to help federal government better understand the technology’s potential

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 18, 2018
The bipartisan bill, if passed, will see the federal government in the US establish an advisory board to address AI policy for executive agencies.

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A group of bipartisan senators have introduced a draft bill, the Artificial Intelligence in Government Act, in an attempt to help the US federal government get to grips with the impact of AI on executive agencies. The bill, if passed, will see a new strategy created for investing and using AT as part of the federal data strategy.

Senators Brian Schatz, Cory Gardner, Rob Portman and Kamala Harris all cited that AI could be harnessed for beneficial impact across government, but that work needed to be undertaken to understand its risks too.

The legislation has been endorsed by BSA, Centre for Democracy and Technology, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Intel, Internet Association, Lincoln Network, Microsoft, Niskanen Centre, and R Street Institute.

Senator Schatz, the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, said:

The United States won’t have the global competitive edge in AI if our own government isn’t making the most of these technologies.

This bill will give the federal government the resources it needs to hire experts, do research, and work across federal agencies to use AI technologies in smart and effective ways.

Senator Gardner added:

Our bill will bring agencies, industry, and others to the table to discuss government adoption of artificial intelligence and emerging technologies. We need a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges these technologies present for federal government use and this legislation would put us on the path to achieve that goal.

The detail

The draft legislation can be read in its entirety here, but it fundamentally has four core components. The AI in Government Act would:

  • expand an office within the General Services Administration to provide technical expertise to relevant government agencies; conduct forward-looking, original research on federal AI policy; and promote U.S. competitiveness through agency and industry cooperation;
  • establish an advisory board to address AI policy opportunities and challenges for executive agencies;
  • direct the Office of Management and Budget to establish a strategy for investing and using AI as part of the federal data strategy; and
  • direct the Office of Personnel Management to identify skills and competencies for AI and establish a new or update an existing occupational series.

Senator Portman said:

Artificial intelligence will have significant impacts for our country, economy, and society.

Ensuring that our government has the capabilities and expertise to help navigate those impacts will be important in the coming years and decades. I’m pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation to ensure our government understands the benefits and pitfalls of this technology as it engages in a responsible, accountable rollout of AI.

This side of the pond

Whilst the US starts to introduce AI into law, the potential benefits - and challenges - of using AI in government have been discussed with increased frequency in recent months in the UK and the EU too.

For example, the European Commission has established a group that will discuss the challenges associated with AI, in the hope that the EU can start to provide some answers to some of the difficult ethical, legal and societal questions the technology poses.

The Commission’s European Group on Ethics (EGE) is calling for the launch of a process that would pave the way towards a “common, internationally recognised ethical and legal framework for the design, production, use and governance of artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous systems”.

It also proposes a set of fundamental ethical principles, based on the values laid down in the EU Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, the UK government announced a new Sector Deal for AI, which aims to take “immediate tangible actions” to advance the UK’s ambitions in AI and the data-driven economy.

It builds on - and is an extension of - the 2017 review by Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti, which was commissioned published in the Autumn. The report claimed to unveil plans to “supercharge” the UK’s AI industry, enabling it to become the “clear world leader in the development of AI to boost productivity, advance healthcare, improve services for customers, and unlock £630 billion for the UK economy”.

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