US AI defence panel calls for digital academy

By on 24/09/2020 | Updated on 30/09/2020
NSCAI recommends the creation of a steering group of defence and intelligence officials focused on integrating emerging technologies to create military advantage. (Photo courtesy: the U.S. Army via flickr).

The US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) has called for the creation of new talent initiatives to develop the government’s technical workforce and improve senior leaders’ understanding of digital and AI.

The Pentagon-based advisory panel, chaired by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, presented its recommendations to Congress last week. These included the creation of a digital academy aimed at increasing the pipeline of tech-savvy workers into the public sector, and a digital reserve corps that would allow tech specialists to serve in government without giving up their private sector work.

It also suggested a ‘scholarship for service’ initiative that would cover university tuition fees for those looking to advance their technical skills, in exchange for at least 38 days a year of government technology work.

Schmidt called the latter a “watered down” version of the academy: an independent institution that would be overseen by a board of government officials and private sector executives. “We need a next generation of talent, and they need to be in the government,” Schmidt said during his opening statement.

Other recommendations put forward during the hearing included improving the means to track digital talent in government, and creating a steering group staffed by top defence and intelligence officials to consider how to integrate emerging technologies to create military advantage.

The recommendations are part of the panel’s second-quarter report for 2020, which was submitted to government in July but has only now been formally presented to Congress.

Incremental changes ‘not going to make a difference’

During the hearing, NSCAI called for “bold” action on improving digital and AI capabilities. NSCAI commissioner Mignon Clyburn said “existing programmes will not bring enough digital talent into the public service workforce to meet serious shortages”, while José-Marie Griffiths, who leads the NSCAI’s workforce subcommittee, said that “incremental changes are not going to make a difference”.

Griffiths added that every challenge the commission works on is inevitably tied to workforce improvements. Data management, international partnership and other key issues all rely on an expert workforce of employees that understand AI, she said, as reported by FedScoop.

In a separate development, representatives Robin Kelly and Will Hurd introduced a congressional resolution on 16 September calling for the creation of a national AI strategy. The resolution includes recommendations from four white papers – on workforce, national security, R&D, and ethics – which they hope will be turned into legislation.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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