With artificial intelligence (AI) the topic du jour on Capitol Hill, Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., on Wednesday introduced the Artificial Intelligence in Government Act that would establish a Federal AI advisory board that aims to chart paths forward in the technology’s development.

The bill’s debut follows yesterday’s release by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Robin Kelly, D-Ill., of a white paper urging increased Federal engagement in AI technology.

“The United States won’t have the global competitive edge in AI if our own government isn’t making the most of these technologies,” said Sen. Schatz, the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, in a statement. “This bill will give the Federal government the resources it needs to hire experts, do research, and work across Federal agencies to use AI technologies in smart and effective ways.”

The new legislation would, among other things, establish a Federal AI advisory board to advise on AI policy opportunities and challenges for Federal agencies. In a statement, the senators explained the legislation is designed to improve the use of AI across the federal government by providing resources and directing Federal agencies to include AI in data-related planning.

“Our bill will bring agencies, industry, and others to the table to discuss government adoption of artificial intelligence and emerging technologies,” said Sen. Gardner in a statement. “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 four primary objectives, it would:

  • “expand an office within the General Services Administration to provide technical expertise to relevant government agencies; conduct forward-looking, original research on federal AI policy; and promote U.S. competitiveness through agency and industry cooperation;
  • establish an advisory board to address AI policy opportunities and challenges for executive agencies;
  • direct the Office of Management and Budget to establish a strategy for investing and using AI as part of the federal data strategy; and
  • direct the Office of Personnel Management to identify skills and competencies for AI and establish a new or update an existing occupational series.”

The legislation has already received support from both IT companies and industry groups, including BSA, Center for Democracy and Technology, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Intel, Internet Association, Lincoln Network, Microsoft, Niskanen Center, and R Street Institute.

“As artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies become more common, the government must look ahead to the role it will play as both an adopter and a regulator of these technologies,” said Chris Calabrese, vice president of policy for the Center for Democracy and Technology. “Carefully considering its own uses of AI would allow the federal government to offer services in better and smarter ways, support and improve AI research, and avoid pitfalls like bias in automated decisions. CDT applauds the ‘AI in Government Act’ and hopes it can bring about a comprehensive approach to representing the public interest as the government adopts and deploys new technologies.”

In addition to helping advance IT innovation and modernization, Lisa Malloy, who leads U.S. government affairs for Intel, says the bill is a mechanism to save taxpayer dollars.

“The AI in Government Act of 2018, sponsored by Senators Gardner and Schatz, will help U.S. federal agencies better utilize emerging technologies like AI for the public interest,” said Malloy in a statement. “Using AI will not only drive better use of taxpayer funds by empowering agencies to tackle problems better and faster, but also create efficiencies that help cut waste, fraud, and abuse–all important public policy goals.”

No word yet on whether a similar bill is forthcoming in the House.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.