Lawmakers Reintroduce Bill To Prioritize AI Adoption in Government

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The Artificial Intelligence in Government Act would create a center of excellence, a governance board and require agencies to develop plans to ensure the ethical use of advanced algorithms.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to fundamentally change the world we live in—something current and former federal IT leaders agree on. But a bipartisan group of legislators in both chambers have reintroduced a bill to speed up AI adoption in the federal government.

The Artificial Intelligence in Government Act was reintroduced Wednesday by cosponsors Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., with the aim of getting more AI technical experts in government. The bill was originally introduced during the last Congress but failed to pass before the end of the year.

“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,” Portman said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure our government understands the benefits and pitfalls of this technology as it engages in a responsible, accountable rollout of AI.”

Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., introduced a companion bill in the House, as well.

The bills charge the General Services Administration with establishing a Center of Excellence to provide some of this expertise, as well as “conduct forward-looking, original research on federal AI policy and promote U.S. competitiveness,” according to a release from the senators.

The legislation also requires agencies to establish governance plans for using AI while protecting “civil liberties, privacy and civil rights” and creates an advisory board to weigh in on challenges and opportunities for agencies in adopting AI.

“As we embrace the new jobs and new opportunities brought about by the growth of artificial intelligence, we must also be clear about the potential downsides of this powerful technology, including racial and gender bias,” said Harris, who is running for president in 2020 and has included a number of technology-related issues in her platform.

Finally, the bill directs the Office of Personnel Management to create or update existing job series to include AI skills and competencies.

“While C-3PO isn’t yet a reality in today’s world, artificial intelligence certainly is,” Gardner said, referencing the protocol droid from the Star Wars series. “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 bill has gotten support from open data and technology advocacy groups, including BSA | The Software Alliance, the Center for Data Innovation, the Committee for Justice, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Internet Association, the Lincoln Network, Microsoft, Facebook and the Data Coalition.

“The AI in Government Act of 2019 is a common-sense approach to promoting responsible, transparent use of emerging technologies and artificial intelligence systems in our society,” said Nick Hart, the Data Coalition’s newly appointed CEO. “The Data Coalition applauds the proposal to encourage innovative and rigorous data analysis capabilities for improved decision-making, while facilitating equitable uses and appropriate privacy protections.”