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Federal Engagement in Artificial Intelligence Standards Workshop

Thank you so much, Chuck, and thank you all for being here. It’s an exciting day. We welcome you to the National Institute of Standards and Technology and are delighted that, both in person as well as by webcast, that you’re joining in this important conversation today about the future of standards related to artificial intelligence. 

I would like to thank the panelists and all the participants in the program for being here today. I'd also like to thank Lynne Parker for her participation and also for your leadership, Lynne—the assistant director for artificial intelligence at the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy. She's been a strong partner for NIST in these efforts. 

And I'd like to thank the NIST artificial intelligence team, under the leadership of Chuck Romine and Elham Tabassi, for assembling such a strong program. It's a tight timeline that we're on, and it's a very important topic for this nation and for the nations of the world.

NIST has a very broad portfolio of science and technology, and artificial intelligence has been a tool as well as a focus for us for many, many years. Our portfolio of science and technology is really one of the broadest in all of the federal government in the United States, from fundamental studies to applications to manufacturing. And the great depth that NIST has brought to these issues, our five Nobel Prizes, attest to the focus, the long-range focus on fundamental science and technology that's a hallmark of this great institution that traces its heritage to the beginning of this nation, Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution. 

As a premier laboratory for advancing innovation for this country we do everything from building the world's best atomic clocks to helping large and small organizations better achieve their goals, manage their cybersecurity risks, achieve organizational excellence. We help firefighters predict the behavior of wildfires. We help first responders with new technologies for communications and visualization, and we help organizations large and small with cybersecurity and privacy-related matters. Our work addresses many national priorities that include advanced manufacturing, the advances of the digital economy, quantum science and bioscience.

And of course, we’re here today to discuss AI, which impacts already the many national priorities in the coming years in both predictable and as-yet-unimagined ways.

NIST’s work in this field goes back actually many decades, and a database of handwritten digits that was developed by NIST in the 1990s is today still one of the most commonly used tools for benchmarking image processing systems. An earlier version of what became IBM Watson was tested in a NIST-led Text Retrieval Conference, or TREC, between 1999 and 2005.

Today, AI is changing the way we at NIST approach many different issues. It ranges from AI considerations with our many industry partners at our National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence and the confluence between AI and privacy-related matters. We want to understand if and how the center might address AI as it also develops practical guidance based on commercially available technologies. 

Our privacy team is exploring the implications of AI in managing risk, while at the same time developing a Privacy Framework. And NIST is applying AI to measurement problems well beyond IT to gain deeper insight into the research itself as well as to better understand AI’s capabilities and limitations.  We have research underway to apply AI in robotics, in new materials discovery as part of the Materials Genome Initiative, and also in biological systems.

NIST plays a leadership role in the interagency dialogues that support AI. I have been tapped by the White House to serve on the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, and we are indeed fortunate to have Chuck Romine, the director of our Information Technology Lab, representing NIST on the AI and Machine Learning Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council.

So it should be no surprise that NIST was included in the president’s order on “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.” The EO directs NIST to create “a plan for federal engagement in the development of technical standards and related tools in support of reliable, robust, and trustworthy systems that use AI technologies.” 

The plan that you’re part of developing will help meet one of the EO’s goals for technical standards that “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 also to develop international standards to promote and protect those priorities.”

NIST is well suited for this role, given our responsibilities relating to standards within the federal enterprise, our nonregulatory role, our strong working relationship with the private sector, and our technical expertise and depth. We have a longstanding reputation for cultivating trust in technology by helping develop a standards-based approach as well as metrics that underpin measurement science and make the technology more secure, usable, interoperable and reliable. 

With the rapid growth of artificial intelligence and the potential of its applications to shape the future economy, AI is raising significant questions around economic competitiveness as well as national security. And we see AI around us in absolutely every sector of the economy, don’t we? As AI technology advances, we will need to continue to develop rigorous scientific testing to ensure that it’s secure, trustworthy and safe. 

We also need to develop a broad spectrum of standards for AI data, performance, interoperability, usability, security and privacy, and that includes participating in the development of international standards that promote innovation and public trust in systems that use AI. Earlier this month, through the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States and nearly 40 other countries formally approved a set of principles that focus on the responsible stewardship of trustworthy artificial intelligence.

The principles begin to answer the question of how we should think about developing and deploying AI technologies. We now need to work on how we implement these principles in the real world. Hence this workshop. We need science and technology-based standards that can use and can translate these aspirational principles into actionable and measurable solutions. 

Our efforts today are an important step in defining these solutions. We're committed to fulfilling our responsibility of creating a plan for federal engagement in the development of AI standards, as within the Executive Order’s allotted 180 days. And so we are, indeed, on a tight timeline. Thanks again for the team and for all of you for participating in this important dialog. The workshops, the panel discussions, I'm confident, will be an important step in gathering feedback to frame the conversation for standardization and the tool sets required to go forward. 

The first step that we had after we received the assignment was to publish a request for information in the Federal Register to gather input from a broad audience, and we plan to extend the RFI deadline from May 31st until June 10th in response to several requests for additional time. 

So I strongly encourage each of you to review the questions and provide input. Through today's workshop, we hope to further engage organizations and individual subject-matter experts in discussions that will advance this plan. We look forward to hearing your thoughts. We hope that you'll ask our panelist lots of questions, engage in dialog, engage with one another, during the working sessions, so that the richest feedback can be provided as part of this process. 

AI is already transforming so many aspects of our lives and has the potential to do so much more. We're living in an environment where there is concern, and so the standardization process, as well as the development of the appropriate tools, is an important initiative, indeed. We need to work together to ensure that we make the most of this technology, while ensuring safety, privacy and security. We'll need to think creatively, work hard and cooperate vigorously if we are indeed to develop this plan for federal engagement in AI standards and related tools. 

Our goal is to continue to assure U.S. leadership in the realm of artificial intelligence. I'm wishing you a great day of interaction today. Much success in your conversations, and thank you, once again, to all of you for participating in this important dialog. Thank you. 

Created June 3, 2019