Gary Washington, CIO at the Department of Agriculture (USDA), spoke enthusiastically today about the agency’s ongoing approach to emerging technologies – including robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain – and said the technologies have the potential to become “a very large part of our future.”

Speaking at an event organized by ACT-IAC, Washington said USDA is evaluating the use of RPA in both administrative and program areas. “We are working very closely with HR [human resources], management and IT … to see where it’s really smart to use RPA,” he said.

On the AI front, Washington said the technology is already being used in security operations centers to sift through cyber threat data, and also is being used for some contact center applications.

“We are just dipping our toes in this area” to see how it can benefit USDA, he said. Part of that process, the CIO said, is getting both IT staff and “business folks” to “think differently” about how AI can be employed.

He also said USDA is working on pilot projects to use blockchain technologies in connection with keeping track of food export statistics, and said the technology is “something that our leadership is very excited about.”

Regarding workforce impacts of advanced technologies, Washington said USDA is focusing on providing opportunities for staff to work with the new technologies. “We’re not trying to get rid of people … We are trying to give people an opportunity,” he said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.