With development and adoption of AI increasing over the past year, Federal and private sector experts say the time for Federal agencies to invest in the technology – and to develop the deep knowledge to explain to the public how it works – is right now.

Those are some of the main takeaways from MeriTalk’s IT in Depth episode on MeriTV, AI Impact: A Conversation on Federal Progress, featuring Gil Alterovitz, director of AI at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Kurt Steege, chief technology officer at ThunderCat Technology. The episode explores lessons learned thus far in the AI space and what’s next for AI in Federal agencies.

Early and Often

“Thinking about [AI] as soon as possible and now is really the best,” Alterovitz said. “You really want to look at all the different cases and leverage all the work that’s been done in order to have a mature product, but it’s not possible until you really start. So, you really want to start with the use cases, build that fundamental infrastructure, and if you can, leverage what’s already been done.”

Collaboration will be crucial for AI success, according to Alterovitz – both within the Federal government and the private sector.

“Are there other offices within your agency or are there other agencies that have already worked in this area? There could be room for collaboration,” he said. “And then, of course, turn to industry and academia that’s really been at the forefront of some of the technologies.”

Like Alterovitz, Steege advised Federal agencies to get into AI now if they haven’t already. “Start along the path now. Build something. Go after it. Start small,” he said.

Steege stressed that “time equals money” in the Federal government, and that AI can be “quicker to mission success.”

AI “decreases the amount of time it takes to find a solution,” Steege said. “If you can get to a solution faster, you’re decreasing the amount of time you have to pay folks to find the solution and increasing the amount of time you have to be able to push it out there. That adds to not only monetary value for companies that are concerned with that, but also taxpayer money.”

Explaining How it Works

As for the future of AI, Alterovitz predicts that the technology will take off in the healthcare space over the next five years. He anticipates AI will be instrumental in direct patient care, not just in backend processes. “I think we’ll see more in the field where clinicians will need to learn how to practice medicine with AI,” Alterovitz said.

The advancement of AI into life-and-death situations will require practitioners to take the next big step up – explaining how it works and why.

“Explainable AI is going to be important so that the AI can essentially explain why it’s thinking the way that it is so that clinicians can decide to leverage that information that is being recommended by the AI system, or to consider it in some cases but not others,” Alterovitz said.

For more IT in-depth AI insights and to learn more about what VA and other Federal agencies are doing with AI, check out the full MeriTV episode here.

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