Congress thinks departments need to coordinate on AI efforts
The bipartisan Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus is concerned about the lack of coordination between individual federal departments’ AI offices.
Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, sitting on a panel next to co-chair Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., said that he wants the different offices throughout agencies dedicated to developing AI capabilities to interact with each other more to increase efficiency.
“We’re competing against foreign countries who want this technology and want to take the world over,” said Olson, speaking Dec. 5 at the GovernmentCIO AI and RPA in Government conference.
Federal departments across the government have been working on AI independently. The Department of Defense stood up the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) last year, which is working to accelerate AI adoption across the Pentagon. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy also formally announced an AI office. Olson wants to see these types of groups work together to “help us make sure we all stand on one big boat and not several boats,” he said.
“Let’s talk guys, no duplicates, spend our taxpayer dollars wisely,” Olson said. “Don’t double up, triple up efforts. Talk.”
There is at least one example of this type of communication between agencies. The JAIC and General Services Administration recently teamed up on artificial intelligence work. But if Congress is going to take action to facilitate AI development in federal agencies, it needs members who understand the technology. That’s one reason the caucus was formed. Olson said on the panel that the caucus’ mantra is “educate, then legislate.”
“We’re working hard with this caucus to get people informed, educated, so they can go help us legislate,” said Olson, who founded the AI caucus and is retiring after this term.
The two co-chairs of the House of Representatives bipartisan congressional artificial intelligence caucus see significant interest on Capitol Hill for exploring the uses of artificial intelligence, an issue that they repeatedly stressed throughout the panel had a rare bipartisan stamp on it. Now, McNerney said, Congress needs to look at investing more in the technology.
“We’re not spending enough resources right now to do the job,” McNerney said. “We need to increase federal participation in artificial intelligence both in terms of expenditures and in terms of creating job opportunities in the government for artificial intelligence.”
McNerney said Congress needs people who understand risks associated with AI, along with ethical challenges and how those two balance out with rewards. He added that “there’s a lot of nuance” to AI, particularly related to job loss.
“What happens is that any job has aspects that will be susceptible to be replaced by artificial intelligence, but aspects of the job that are not,” McNerney said. “So it’s important to understand what those two are and use the parts that are not susceptible … and weave those into new opportunities that will be presenting themselves.”
While most caucus meetings receive minimal attendance on Capitol Hill, both members said that turnout for the AI caucus has been packed with both members and their staff this year.
“People want to know what this is; they want to know what the future looks like,” McNerney said.