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How Government Gets Ready for Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality

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Brace yourselves: Artificial intelligence, virtual reality and a host of new emerging technologies are becoming mainstream.

Fortunately, for the federal government, two new digital communities will coalesce around these burgeoning technologies in an effort to promote interagency collaboration, partnerships with industry and to exchange ideas about what works.

Launched last month, the Artificial Intelligence for Citizens Services and Virtual/Augmented Reality communities add two new focus areas to General Services Administration’s Digital Communities effort, which already boasts some 10,000 members and 16 active mission areas.

Justin Herman, digital communities and open government lead at GSA, said the communities arose from direct conversations, feedback and analysis from federal agencies themselves.

“Agencies had the need for more information and clarification for how to approach these technologies of tomorrow,” Herman told Nextgov. “In reality, these are technologies of today.”

GSA, for example, has already looked at using AI-infused chatbots as a way to better engage millions of citizens, and the Pokemon Go craze—the app uses augmented reality and is the most downloaded of all time—points to a future where AI and VR/AR are commonplace. From personalized medical treatment and AI-driven weather forecasts to an assortment of predictive analysis of existing government data, the potential for AI is vast.

If government is to be ready, it’s going to require “not just strengthening agency ties, but also having those ties and collaborations with industry,” Herman said.

“One of the things these communities make it easier to do is to tap in and work with innovators in industry and the private sector, startups and small businesses,” he added.

Success stories stemming from GSA’s Digital Communities efforts include Yelp for Public Services, the U.S. Public Participation Playbook and the support of hundreds of prizes and competitions, to name a few.

Work under the two new communities is underway, and Herman said the interest in AI and VR/AR is intense, receiving “10 times the normal level of engagement.” The communities will host a launch event in the coming month, and Herman encouraged those interested in the subject—provided they are federal employees or contractors working in official capacity with a dot-gov or dot-mil email address—to sign up. More than 100 people across government are already participating from agencies like NASA, the Office of Management and Budget and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

“In the initial weeks, there’s going to be a lot of research, analysis and discovery, and we’ll be collecting ideas that are out there, what’s being talked about and what true capabilities are out there to agencies, and some business cases, too,” Herman said.

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