Administration unveils its artificial intelligence initiative

By Peter Kamocsai | February 15, 2019

While we are a ways off from working alongside intelligent machines like C-3PO, the Star Wars translator robot, advancements in artificial intelligence are moving us toward that goal.

Recognizing the progress of AI, and its growing economic, social and national security importance, the Trump administration this week issued an executive order launching the American AI Initiative titled, “Maintaining American Leadership in AI.”

For its part, the Partnership for Public Service has researched AI in federal agencies to learn its potential benefits and challenges for the federal government, what agencies are doing now, and what will be needed in the future.

The executive order sets a direction for AI research and development, outlines the administration’s priorities and, tacitly, aims to close a perceived gap between the AI efforts of the United States and other countries, most notably China.

The initiative is the latest of several AI-related activities. To promote U.S. leadership in AI and better coordinate AI-related activities nationwide, the administration hosted a White House Summit on AI and established a Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, while Congress created a National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.

The executive order takes a small step toward opening the government’s data treasure trove to companies and universities which could, in time, become a giant leap for AI’s development. AI needs massive amounts of data to improve at its tasks.

Government agencies hold large repositories of data and information on everything from weather to exports to census information. Opening more of such databases—without compromising privacy—would allow innovators outside government to improve AI systems with information they would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

Another pillar of the executive order is strengthening an AI-ready American workforce. No one knows the full impact of AI on the workforce but it is indisputable that future jobs will require people to have new and different skills to succeed in an AI workplace.

In this spirit, the order directs agencies to work with the new AI committee, the administration’s National Council for the American Worker, the private sector and universities to prepare the workforce through education, training, apprenticeships and fellowships.

Woven throughout the order is a commitment to American principles in the building of AI systems that includes ethical development of AI and respect for privacy and individual rights.

Working with the IBM Center for The Business of Government, we published “The Future Has Begun: Using Artificial Intelligence to Transform Government,” a report on ways government agencies use AI now.

This year, we are planning to publish two more issue briefs on how AI could impact federal agencies and employees, and how federal leaders can assess and manage the impact. Part of the discussion is on how government itself needs to become a good user of AI to keep American primacy in the field—in the public sector as well as in all other sectors.

Peter Kamocsai leads the Partnership for Public Service’s work on artificial intelligence.


Peter Kamocsai