Artificial Intelligence in Federal R&D

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a concept relegated to imaginations and science fiction novels. Today, the idea that machines can learn and solve problems is an everyday reality.

If you’ve asked Alexa to add to your grocery list, investigated a fraud alert on your credit card, or used a traffic-management app to find a shortcut around construction, you’ve used –and likely benefited from—AI.

We’ve only scratched the surface. AI stands poised to bring advances across many industries, from education and transportation to medicine and economics. While the benefits of AI are clear, the risks are murky. Thus, the US government is focused on developing AI ethically and safely, in a regulated environment.

In 2016, the White House created a strategic plan for national AI research and development for the federal government. In March 2019, the White House launched, a central website housing resources, initiatives, and projects being conducted across federal agencies. While research is being conducted on multiple fronts, national defense and security is an exciting area to watch.

National Security

In the future, AI will be increasingly important in monitoring and synchronizing disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, predictive maintenance, defense missions, and more. In June 2018, the Department of Defense (DoD) established the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) to serve as the center for AI key defense missions, enabling frameworks, libraries and data to be sharable and scalable.

Modern warfare has already been transformed by the use of drones in combat and non-combat settings. In 2018, Project Maven helped build a tool that could quickly process drone footage. This type of AI allows human operators to make decisions based on information gathered beyond the speed and scope of the human brain.

The DoD is fully invested in AI potential, pledging up to $2 billion in funding over the next five years. Additionally, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency plans to fund dozens of research efforts.

Personnel Security

Background checks require sifting through enormous amounts of data. Clearances are required for hiring, and the continuous vetting process can be costly and timely. Yet the consequences of missing red flags of previous misconduct or other vulnerabilities could be catastrophic.

Currently, outstanding security clearances leave many federal positions unfilled, and consequently, work unaccomplished.  Personnel with top secret clearances need to go through reinvestigation every five years. And, due to their lack of depth, interim clearances aren’t the answer. AI can help by combing through massive amounts of data, streamlining the background check process, and filling the workplace.


Last year, SWARM-Tac was developed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Port Hueneme, California. This AI-driven software aims to help naval vessels respond if “swarmed” by small, agile boats. Because weapons on larger vessels aren’t designed to fight against multiple threats at close range, SWARM-Tac collects information from the ship’s existing sensor data and generates solutions on how the ship can evade or destroy the attackers.

Research and development into AI in the federal government is funded, underway, and promises to bring innovation across the enterprise. We remain poised for future technologies--and the impact of current ones.

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