Where Artificial Intelligence Can Make the Biggest Impact

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Here are three ways an investment into artificial intelligence could reap significant returns in the public space.

Advancements in artificial intelligence software in the commercial space have gained traction in recent years. From Watson assisting with diagnoses in doctors’ offices to the computer programs running risk analysis for banks making lending decisions, AI has permeated many facets of our lives. However, the federal government’s use of AI has received far less attention, despite directly impacting most citizens across the country. 

Coming to Terms with Terms

The term “artificial intelligence” has been co-opted for a wide array of applications. The definition often includes everything from marginally automated systems to advanced machine learning programs that make decisions independently of a human operator. The federal government is no exception, and the different meanings of AI often run the gamut. 

Most often, AI in the federal space refers to something along the middle of the spectrum: more than simple analytics but far short of pure artificial intelligence. In general, the goal is to comb through and correlate large data sets in order to gain insights. 

With these insights, AI has the potential to revolutionize the workflows and efficacy of most organizations, but the current technology is positioned to make the most impact in a few specific areas. Here are three ways an investment into artificial intelligence could reap significant returns in the public space.

Protecting Assets

One place where predictive data analysis would be especially useful is cybersecurity. Cybersecurity threats in the federal space evolve quickly, and the information at risk is often highly sensitive and valuable. It’s no wonder that research is being done into how AI can most effectively help safeguard against potential attacks. Contemporary cybersecurity tools often rely on some degree of data collection—a great starting point for architecting more advanced solutions to mitigate the effects of attacks or prevent them altogether.

An ideal tool that leverages AI to gain a better defensive position against attacks would work on two fronts: the structured environment of a federal agency’s IT infrastructure, and the wider, unstructured data of the internet at large. Internally, the tool could be set up to pinpoint obsolete or unpatched software and other vulnerabilities that are known entrance points for malicious actors. Externally, the tool could crawl internet forums and other points of interest to gain insight into the development of new attacks.

Optimizing our Budgets

The U.S. government has one of the largest budgets of any organization in the world. However, the complexities that come with such a large budget also bring the potential for costly missteps and oversights. One benefit of artificial intelligence is increased efficiency, and one area that could use an efficiency boost in the federal government is contractor costs.

The government awards billions of dollars’ worth of contracts each year. The vast stockpiles of data associated with costs and logistics for contracted work are a perfect place for AI to work, streamlining the construction process for expensive defense equipment or preventing corruption by correlating trends in spending year over year.

An advanced form of AI, going beyond complex data analysis, could even provide predictions into equipment wear and tear. Integrating machine learning into the construction process of defense equipment could help prevent dangerous mechanical failures from occurring in the field. AI promises to decrease inefficiencies across the board, but high cost and high-risk contexts like these are where it could have a huge impact.

Streamlining Decisions

AI does a remarkable job of quickly examining many different data sources to form conclusions. Another area of the federal space that could benefit from AI is the complex world of security clearances. 

Currently, the time-consuming, multi-step process of researching security clearances can take a year or more, bogging down the flow of human resources. Instead of using a person’s time investigating new-hire backgrounds, a well-programmed AI could be deployed to do a deep dive into finances, travel, and more. While a human would need to make the ultimate decision, much of the time-intensive research could be conducted by a computer.

While we’re still uncovering the possibilities for AI, scenarios where multiple sources of information need to be analyzed in pursuit of decision-making are clear paths for investment in this type of technology. The prevalence of large and disparate data sets in the federal government makes it an excellent and underexplored place for driving innovation. By focusing resources on prediction, optimization, and streamlining, we have the potential to use AI to make a huge impact on the way the government operates and on the services it provides.

Charles Fullwood is senior director of sales engineering at Force3.

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