Artificial Intelligence in Federal R&D

Source: Image via

Source: Image via

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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What Does the FCC’s $20 Billion, 5G Plan for Rural America Really Mean?

Rural Tennessee, connected via fiber optic cables. Source: USDA, CC licensed    Flickr    image

Rural Tennessee, connected via fiber optic cables. Source: USDA, CC licensed Flickr image

It’s been about three weeks since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its $20.4 billion plan to bring high-speed, mobile access to rural communities in the United States. Dubbed the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the plan will award $2 billion in subsidies per year, over ten years, to build a physical infrastructure for broadband throughout rural America. The goal is to connect up to 4 million rural homes and businesses.

This high-speed broadband network, better known as 5G, launches internet connectivity into a whole new sphere. At its peak speed, 5G is 20 times faster than 4G, with a minimum peak download speed of 20 Gb/s, as compared to 4G’s 1 Gb/s. That means 5G users can access infinitely more information, much faster--also helping advance other technologies, such as autonomous vehicles.

It is especially revolutionary because over 20 million Americans, many of whom live in rural areas, lack access to current broadband speeds. It’s an infrastructure issue; because of physical barriers, like mountains or rivers, and high implementation expenses, the wireline technology needed for broadband access isn’t always the best choice.

That’s where the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund comes in. Ajit Pai, FCC chairman, envisions the resulting infrastructure as a combination of both wired and wireless technology. The $2 billion annual subsidy allows companies to install fiber optic cable throughout rural areas, and install devices on tall structures, such as towers, that will disseminate the signal.

The Fund will succeed the 2015 Connect America Fund, which provided $9 billion in subsidies for technologies like cable and DSL. The FCC’s newest plan more than doubles past federal funding.

According to New Food Economy, Rural and Agriculture Council of America Vice President Chris Skorupa said the current plan was the “best path forward to stimulating local economies and bridging the digital divide in rural communities across America.” He also described it as [creating the] “largest commercial spectrum auction in FCC history.”

The auction, run by the FCC, sells the rights to transmit signals over wireless spectrum bands, the radio frequencies over which wireless signals travel. Mobile phone companies, like Verizon or T-Mobile, compete for use, helping both to expand America’s 5G network and stimulate the economy.

The FCC’s third auction of the 5G spectrum is scheduled for early December, 2019. It will sell 3,400 megahertz in three spectrum bands which, according to Pai, “is a lot of spectrum.” It will be the largest auction yet, in terms of total spectrum to be auctioned.

By some accounts, the FCC’s $20 billion plan is just one more step forward into the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). In his keynote at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Hans Verstberg, CEO and executive chairman of the board of Verizon Communications, outlined how 5G is paving the way for 4IR:

“Everything we're going to see in the future [will be] transformed by 5G. We're going to see a technology change that is going to transform people, businesses, and society.” he said. “It’s the next era of technology advancement.”

Which makes the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund a catalyst for change not just for rural America, but for the country as a whole.

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