Innovation Calls for Upskilling: Preparing the Workforce for Ethical AI and ML

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Realizing the full potential of new technologies requires the cultivation of new skills

As the timelines for digital transformation initiatives accelerate, the promise of artificial intelligence and machine learning is top of mind across the public sector. From increased flexibility, to automation, efficiency and cost savings, agencies are looking to these technologies to help transform their organizations. In fact, Bloomberg Government analysis prior to fiscal year 2021 anticipated that federal spending on AI and ML technologies would exceed $3 billion that year, with another $6 billion invested into AI-related R&D projects. 

While the investment is there, a critical part of the innovation journey for government agencies lies in upskilling and reskilling the workforce. New technologies require new skills to ensure technology solutions are being utilized to their full potential to best serve the taxpayers. 

Leading a revolution 

Last year, Senator Gary Peters from the state of Michigan sponsored the AI Training Act. The bipartisan bill was positioned to enhance the knowledge and training of federal employees with technologies such as AI and ML. The legislation is a critical step forward in creating a workforce that not only serves the community but does so with the most pertinent skills related to the technology at their disposal. VMware also found that 65% of government agencies plan to increase their investment in professional development for their developers. Innovation is not intended to replace workers but make them more efficient. These investments are necessary for all employees to better utilize the tech stack. 

As every touchpoint in a constituent’s daily life has become more seamless, frictionless and instant, agencies need to modernize their technology stack to ensure it measures up to these experiences. Not only can AI and ML help deliver better experiences, but it also can empower a greater cybersecurity posture, cloud-based adoption of services and more. 

Implementing for success with AI and ML 

Understanding that serving constituents is a tenant to agencies, effective and efficient operations is paramount. AI and ML technologies can be used to automate processes, such as management of cloud usage, making it possible to scale capacity and workloads in response to changes in the demand of services. This was especially apparent during the pandemic, as the need for unemployment benefits surged, overwhelming agencies. 

On a national scale, the importance of AI programs and adoption is becoming increasingly apparent. The Senate’s FY22 appropriations framework earmarked $500 million for AI programs across all military branches, including $100 million for the Department of Defense. 

The adoption of ethical AI and ML technology tools needs to be incorporated into future cross-cloud management solutions supporting the multi- and hybrid-cloud environment. Identifying potential biases and/or ethical issues with AI algorithms will improve the success rate in leveraging AI and ML supporting the mission and business outcomes within the public sector.  

Innovation requires upskilling

AI and ML are set to transform how the government delivers services to citizens. However, IT leaders must act now to pave the path for success. The public sector must make sustained investments that promote innovation so that workers can be upskilled and reskilled in order to understand and effectively adopt and implement the technology.  

Private and public sector collaboration is critical for improving acquisition solutions in the future. By establishing the right collaboration and communication, government employees can more effectively adopt and understand AI and ML, strengthening their roles and ultimately providing better services to citizens.

Talent is hard to come by. Add in the effects of the “Great Resignation,” to all the other traditional hiring and retention issues that occur in the workplace, and agencies are left in a tough position to continue to serve. With the support of technologies like AI, ML, cloud computing and automation, tasks can become more efficient and provide more useful time back to the employees. Working with what you have and supporting employees to learn more skills that support business and mission-critical outcomes, and their careers is a win-win. 

Keith Nakasone is a federal strategist for VMware.

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