Artificial Intelligence Federal Oversight Effort Passes Committee Markup

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By Michaela Ross

A new council would work to spur the adoption of artificial intelligence technologies and oversee policies at the Department of Defense, under provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019.

Lawmakers have been paying greater attention to AI, which can be used by the military to fight cyber threats, operate soldier-less vehicles and navigate drones. For months, lawmakers, researchers and tech industry representatives have warned that the U.S. is lagging behind countries like China and the U.K. in setting a national strategy for the technology.The House Armed Services Committee approved May 10 the provisions of the defense bill ( H.R. 5515). The legislation would create a group to oversee and accelerate the integration of AI and policies across the department. It would also call for a review of military applications of the technology.

The legislation would further call for an additional $40 million above the president’s budget request to fund AI and machine learning programs at the department, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, which drafted the AI provisions, said during the markup.

“These steps will ensure our competitive advantage against near-peer and peer adversaries and maintain our superiority in these fields,” Stefanik said.

Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) in December also introduced legislation ( H.R. 4625) that would establish a committee overseen by the Commerce Department to create AI policy recommendations across federal agencies. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced companion legislation in her chamber.

The language adopted in the markup includes portions of a bill Stefanik introduced in March ( H.R. 5356), which would have established an independent commission to make recommendations on the federal government’s approach to AI.

Stefanik introduced H.R. 5356 as an amendment during the markup, but later withdrew it. She said she was working with other committees to find a way to advance her legislation that would establish a government-wide effort on fostering AI.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the coming weeks as we move the NDAA to the floor so we can establish this important national security commission on artificial intelligence,” she said.

The Pentagon has already signaled that it will boost its AI efforts to remain competitive worldwide. In April, Defense Secretary James Mattis told the committee the department was planning a joint office to consolidate its AI efforts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Roger Yu at ryu@bloomberglaw.com

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