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NIST Releases Draft Plan for Federal Engagement in AI Standards Development

Illustration that shows an outline of a face and then icons to represent different areas of AI including heart (health), lock (cyber), windmills (energy), steering wheel (cars) and manufacturing arm
Credit: N. Hanacek/NIST

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking public comment on a draft plan for federal government engagement in advancing artificial intelligence (AI) standards for U.S. economic and national security needs. The document recommends four actions: bolster AI standards-related knowledge, leadership and coordination among federal agencies; promote focused research on the “trustworthiness” of AI; support and expand public-private partnerships; and engage with international parties. 

“AI is already transforming so many aspects of our lives and has the potential to do much more,” said  Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Walter G. Copan. “The federal government has an important role to play, in partnership with industry and academia, to ensure that the U.S. maintains its leadership in AI. We want to make the most of this technology, while ensuring safety, privacy and security.”

“Today’s draft plan is another critical step in implementing the American AI Initiative, our national strategy to maintain and strengthen America’s leadership in AI,” said Deputy Assistant to the President for Technology Policy Michael Kratsios. “The Trump administration looks forward to continued engagement with the federal government, industry, academia and other stakeholders to advance the American AI Initiative and unleash innovative, trustworthy AI technologies.” 

AI technologies and systems include software and/or hardware that can learn to solve complex problems, make predictions or solve tasks that require human-like sensing (such as vision, speech and touch), perception, cognition, planning, learning, communication or physical action. This would include automated vehicles, advanced game-playing software and facial recognition systems, as well as applications in IT and operational technology systems and more.

The draft notes that widespread use of standards facilitates technology advancement by defining and establishing common foundations for technological innovation. It states, “AI standards that articulate requirements, specifications, guidelines, or characteristics can help to ensure that AI technologies and systems meet critical objectives for functionality, interoperability, and trustworthiness, and perform accurately, reliably and safely.” 

The draft document, U.S. Leadership in AI: Plan for Federal Engagement in Developing Technical Standards and Related Tools, was published today in response to a February 2019 Executive Order that directed federal agencies to take steps to ensure that the U.S. maintains its leadership position in AI. The draft plan was developed with input from various stakeholders through a May 1 Request for Information, a May 30 workshop and federal agency review. 

The draft describes four levels of possible engagement by the federal government: monitoring, participating in, influencing or leading standards efforts. It also states that the government should prioritize efforts that are inclusive and accessible, open and transparent, consensus-based, globally relevant and nondiscriminatory, and that use multiple approaches.

The draft plan outlines the current state of AI standardization, listing categories in which technical standards are needed, including data, metrics, safety and trustworthiness. A chart notes that related IT standards are available today in several of the categories, and while there are active efforts in each, they all need additional standards.

The document also highlights the standards-related tools that are needed, including standardized formats for data sets, test beds, and tools for accountability and auditing.

The plan lays out several practical steps that agencies can take to engage in standards, including identifying how AI technologies can be used to further an agency’s mission, identifying relevant existing standards and using them, or engaging in the development of appropriate standards.

The draft plan can be found on the NIST website. Comments may be submitted to ai_standards [at] nist.gov through July 19, 2019. In accordance with the February Executive Order, a final plan is due to the White House on August 10, 2019.

NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. NIST is a nonregulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. To learn more about NIST, visit www.nist.gov

Released July 2, 2019, Updated July 17, 2019