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Released in March 2021, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence Final Report provides a blueprint for the nation's response to the 21st-century race to control AI capabilities. Playing a critical role in this response, federal civilian agencies can help drive investment, competition, and innovation to build on defense and intelligence efforts and help the nation maintain its AI advantage, today and in the future.
The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) Final Report is both inspiring and chilling. It paints the promise for artificial intelligence (AI) to transform the human experience for the good by accelerating “game-changing” discoveries. From breathtaking innovations in biology and pharmaceuticals to advances in food production and energy, AI can revolutionize daily life and improve the world around us. However, the report also underscores how AI can be used with malicious intent in the pursuit of power. From cyber threats to disinformation campaigns or China’s increasing use of AI to control its population, AI without values, responsibility, and transparency brings sobering implications for humanity.
As with any emerging industry or technology, those in the lead set the standards. Today, the United States is in the AI leadership position, and, as a result, many of the nation’s values and principles permeate current applications of AI worldwide. But adversaries are taking action, and China has committed to seizing that lead from the United States within a decade. If this happens, the United States risks losing the ability to shape the AI of the future around democratic values. In addition, given how integral AI is to the future—permeating every aspect of life—the nation could see its global influence in the economic arena, international security, and technological innovation disappear.
As such, one might view the report as a call to action only for the agencies most traditionally associated with national security—the Department of Defense (DoD) and the intelligence community. But a challenge this demanding requires a comprehensive response that, as the report cites, deeply involves federal civilian agencies as well.
Many agencies beyond DoD and the intelligence community already work in concert to play a vital role in the national security mission. Examples include:
All of these missions promote America’s national security in addition to being fertile proving grounds to extend the application of AI to continue our leadership.
There are also less obvious ways in which Federal civilian agencies contribute to America’s AI leadership. As the report specifically notes: “The nation with the most resilient and productive economic base will be best positioned to seize the mantle of world leadership. That base increasingly depends on the strength of the innovation economy, which in turn will depend on AI. AI technologies will drive waves of advancement in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability” (NSCAI Final Report, p. 159).
In this regard, the report is a clear call for the nation to rise to the challenge and ensure America’s continued leadership in this critical and rapidly emerging space that will fuel so much of the world’s economic growth. To achieve this goal will require activating the entire value chain of the national economy toward AI.
From reimagining education and workforce to transforming technology and industry, the U.S. economy needs to structurally shift toward the objective of innovating and maturing AI capabilities and leadership. But unlike with a centralized economy, America will need to find ways to harness the unique strengths of its free-market system. Government decision makers will need to continue to foster and encourage the conditions to flow labor, capital, policies, and research and development investment toward a singular purpose of AI leadership.
Federal civilian agencies have an important role to play in helping the nation maintain AI leadership, and agencies can make significant contributions in six focus areas:
“We can harness the power of the public and private sectors working together into a coordinated, national push to responsibly develop and deploy AI at scale if the entire breadth of the federal government rises to the challenge.”
The United States can rise to meet the call of the NSCAI Final Report, and federal civilian agencies have a critical role to play in leading the way. As a nation, we can harness the power of the public and private sectors working together in a coordinated, national push to responsibly develop and deploy AI at scale if the entire breadth of the federal government rises to the challenge. In doing so, we must continue to prioritize people and place them at the center of this technology revolution to ensure they understand the potential of AI and its many possibilities. With the right framework, we can embed the nation's values and apply AI in a responsible, ethical, and transparent way to strengthen national security. As a trusted AI partner to the U.S. defense, intelligence, and civil sectors, Booz Allen is committed to partnering with the federal government and rising to meet the call.
John Larson is a leader in Booz Allen’s digital, analytics, and strategy practice serving civil and commercial clients. He leads the architecture and execution of analytic solutions providing analytic strategy advisory services; fraud, waste, and abuse detection and mitigation; and artificial intelligence and deep learning services. He holds a double B.A. in economics and history, and a master’s in public policy, both from The College of William and Mary.