The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a plan for prioritizing federal agency engagement in the development of standards for artificial intelligence (AI). The plan recommends that the federal government “commit to deeper, consistent, long-term engagement” in activities to help the United States speed the pace of reliable and trustworthy AI technology development.
“The federal government can help the U.S. maintain its leadership in AI by working closely with our experts in industry and academia, investing in research, and engaging with the international standards community,” says Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Walter G. Copan. “This plan provides a path to ensure the federal government supports AI standards that are flexible and inclusive—and suited for a world of rapidly changing technologies and applications.”
A February 2019 Executive Order directed NIST to develop a plan that would, among other objectives, “ensure that technical standards minimize vulnerability to attacks from malicious actors and reflect federal priorities for innovation, public trust, and public confidence in systems that use AI technologies; and develop international standards to promote and protect those priorities.”
“The Trump administration continues to deliver on the American AI initiative, the national strategy for U.S. leadership in AI,” says Michael Kratsios, chief technology officer of the United States. “Public trust, security, and privacy considerations remain critical components of our approach to setting AI technical standards. As put forward by NIST, federal guidance for AI standards development will ensure AI is created and applied for the benefit of the American people.”
The plan recommends the federal government bolster AI standards-related knowledge, leadership, and coordination among agencies that develop or use AI; promote focused research on the trustworthiness of AI systems; support and expand public-private partnerships; and engage with international parties.
Due to the rapid pace of technology development and changing understandings of the “trustworthiness, accessibility, and human-centered implications of AI,” the plan emphasizes the need for federal agencies to be flexible in selecting AI standards for use in regulatory or procurement actions. It also calls for prioritizing multidisciplinary research and expanding public-private partnerships to advance reliable, robust, and trustworthy AI. The plan also highlights related tools that will be needed to support AI, including benchmarks, evaluations, and challenges that could drive creative problem solving.
NIST developed the plan with extensive public and private sector involvement, including a May 30 workshop and multiple opportunities for public comment. NIST received comments from more than 40 organizations in industry, academia, and government on a draft plan released July 2. While the plan notes that “serious work on AI-specific standards has only recently begun in earnest,” its appendices list existing IT standards applicable to AI, and ongoing activities regarding AI standards and related tools.