A bipartisan group of senators reintroduced the Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Government Act on Wednesday to improve the use of AI across the Federal government by “providing access to technical expertise and streamlining hiring within the agencies.” The bill was previously introduced by the same group of senators in September of 2018, but didn’t receive a vote in the Senate.

“We can’t continue to lead the world in AI technology if our own government isn’t making the most of it,” said Schatz, who also cosponsored the new version of the bill. “Our bill will give the Federal government the resources it needs to hire experts, do research, and work across federal agencies to use AI technologies in smart and effective ways.”

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Schatz, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif, would also direct agencies to develop governance plans which promote the use of AI to benefit the public within their agencies, as well as establish best practices for “identifying and mitigating bias and other negative unintended consequences.”

Harris specifically highlighted the potential downsides of AI and said, “As we embrace the new jobs and new opportunities brought about by the growth of artificial intelligence, we must also be clear about the potential downsides of this powerful technology, including racial and gender bias,” in a statement on Wednesday.

“Artificial intelligence will have significant impacts for our country, economy, and society,” said Portman. “Ensuring that our government has the capabilities and expertise to help navigate those impacts will be important in the coming years and decades. This bipartisan legislation will help ensure our government understands the benefits and pitfalls of this technology as it engages in a responsible, accountable rollout of AI.”

More specifically, the legislation would:

  • “Create a Center of Excellence within the General Services Administration to provide technical expertise to relevant government agencies; conduct forward-looking, original research on federal AI policy; and promote U.S. competitiveness through agency and industry cooperation;
  • Establish an advisory board to address AI policy opportunities and challenges for executive agencies;
  • Direct executive agencies to create governance plans to advance innovative uses and reduce barriers to AI for the benefit of the public while upholding civil liberties, privacy, and civil rights; and
  • Direct the Office of Personnel Management to identify skills and competencies for AI and establish a new or update an existing occupational series.”

The Senators noted that the legislation has been endorsed BSA | The Software Alliance, Center for Data Innovation, Committee for Justice, Data Coalition, Engine, Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Internet Association, Lincoln Network, Microsoft, and Facebook.

Nick Hart, CEO of the Data Coalition, called the legislation a “common-sense approach to promoting responsible, transparent use of emerging technologies and artificial intelligence systems in our society.” Tom Coughlin, president of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA, agreed with Hart and said the legislation will help the Federal government “capture the promise of artificial intelligence for the American public.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.