March 04, 2019

What Government Contractors Can Expect from the American Artificial Intelligence Initiative

5 min

On February 11, 2019, President Trump signed an executive order (EO), Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence, laying out the national strategy for promoting artificial intelligence (AI). This EO builds on the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan established under the Obama administration. The purpose of the EO is "to sustain and enhance the scientific, technological, and economic leadership position of the United States in AI R&D and deployment through a coordinated Federal Government strategy, the American AI Initiative (Initiative)." The Initiative will be coordinated through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence ("Select Committee"), which will identify federal agencies that conduct "foundational AI R&D, develop and deploy applications of AI technologies, provide educational grants, and regulate and provide guidance for applications of AI technologies" ("implementing agencies"). Among other things, the EO calls for the following actions:

  • Federal Investment. Though the EO does not provide additional funds, it directs implementing agencies to prioritize AI R&D and incorporate that priority into developing their budget proposals for fiscal year 2020 and beyond. Consequently, contractors can expect to see federal interest in "R&D of core AI techniques and technologies; AI prototype systems; application and adaptation of AI techniques; architectural and systems support for AI; and cyberinfrastructure, data sets, and standards for AI." The EO does not set a funding goal or explain how agencies are to prioritize AI. Rather, the EO's guidance is limited to stating that agencies "shall consider AI as an agency R&D priority, as appropriate to their respective agencies' missions, consistent with applicable law and in accordance with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) R&D priorities memoranda." Additionally, it directs implementing agencies to explore opportunities for collaboration with non-federal entities, including the private sector.
  • Data and Computing Resources. Under the EO, federal agencies are to identify ways to increase access of federal data and model inventory to the non-federal AI research community. To do so, the EO calls for the OMB director to publish a notice within 90 days in the Federal Register, inviting the public to submit specific requests for access or quality improvements for federal data and models.
  • Guidance for Regulation of AI Applications. The EO seems particularly sensitive to the potential effect AI will have on privacy issues, and to how the public will react to innovations and implementation of AI technologies. Consequently, the OMB director is to seek public input prior to publishing a memorandum that will inform the development of regulatory and non-regulatory approaches regarding technologies and industrial sectors as well as reducing barriers to the use of AI technologies. The goal for these regulations is to find a balance between advancing and promoting American innovation in AI with civil liberties, privacy, American values, and U.S. economic and national security. In addition, the secretary of commerce will issue a "plan for Federal engagement in the development of technical standards and related tools in support of reliable, robust, and trustworthy systems that use AI technologies." The director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology will lead the development of the plan and seek consultation with agencies, the private sector, academia, and other stakeholders as appropriate.
  • Building an AI-Ready American Workforce. In addition to prioritizing funding of AI R&D, the EO also directs implementing agencies to prioritize AI in federal fellowship and service programs.

Department of Defense AI Strategy

Following the EO, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued a summary of its Artificial Intelligence Strategy ("the DoD strategy") on February 12, 2019. The DoD strategy calls for immediate action in certain areas. Of interest to government contractors, these areas include developing and delivering AI capabilities that address key missions. For example, the DoD strategy calls for using commercially developed AI-based applications to predict critical parts failure, automate diagnostics, plan maintenance, and optimize spare parts inventory. Similarly, the DoD strategy expects AI-based applications to streamline business processes by automating "highly manual, repetitive, and frequent tasks."

To facilitate its AI goals, the DoD strategy calls for enhancing its partnership with U.S. industry through a range of partnership models. Specifically, the DoD expects "bold new AI initiatives with large industrial partners, small start-ups, and venture capital firms" and will establish a centralized AI portal for potential partners. The DoD expects to partner with industry and academia to use AI to address "global challenges of significant societal importance." Examples of these challenges include "operationalizing AI for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief for wildfires, hurricanes, and earthquakes."

Similar to the EO, the DoD's strategy calls for cultivating an AI workforce, which it intends to do by investing in developing the skills of its current workforce through AI training programs. The DoD also intends to use "streamlined, non-traditional pathways" to attract AI talent to the DoD workforce.

Although these new announcements are light on certain details and leave a significant amount of work to be done, they both appear to be good places to start. As agencies and the DoD implement these strategies, contractors can expect to see an increase in both the volume and variety of opportunities to work with the government on AI-related programs. For those contractors interested in seeking assistance of counsel, Venable LLP frequently advises and assists clients on a variety of government contract matters.