The blog post below is adapted from a longer article in VA Research Currents. When Facebook suggests a new friend for you, or Gmail shows you ads based on your email content, or Alexa or Siri understands your verbal command to do some chore in the house, that's artificial intelligence at work. Or, for a more dramatic example, think of driverless cars that read traffic and make lightning-fast decisions to stay on course and avoid accidents. Basically, artificial intelligence (AI) means using computers to simulate human thinking. Computers will never be able to fully replicate the human mind in all its amazing nuance, speed, and complexity--at least most people hope not!--but scientists have made remarkable strides in teaching computers to handle tasks such as finding patterns in data, analyzing and weighing risk factors, choosing the best option from among many choices, predicting future events based on past ones, and solving problems.
As the Veterans Affairs Department's inaugural Director of Artificial Intelligence, Gil Alterovitz aims to leverage the emerging technology and the agency's cornucopia of data to proactively anticipate and tackle problems afflicting veterans like never before. In a conversation with Nextgov, Alterovitz detailed his present efforts and future-facing vision to support VA in executing that mission. "Nowhere in the country is there such potential for research to be developed and translated into clinical care so quickly. In this case, it's to help our special population of veterans … and those patients have actually asked us to deal with their needs," Alterovitz said. "We really want to be the go-to place for veterans through AI research and development--so instead of reacting, we can really anticipate their needs."
The Department of Veterans Affairs, the nation's largest integrated healthcare system, is centralizing the agency's efforts to advance its artificial intelligence research and development capabilities. The VA on Thursday announced the establishment of the National Artificial Intelligence Institute, a joint initiative by the Office of Research and Development and the Office of the Secretary's Center for Strategic Partnerships. "VA has a unique opportunity to be a leader in artificial intelligence," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a written statement. "VA's artificial intelligence institute will usher in new capabilities and opportunities that will improve health outcomes for our nation's heroes." The National Artificial Intelligence Institute will solicit, develop and execute flagship AI research and development projects--with veteran input--focusing on deep learning, explainable AI, privacy-preserving AI as well as AI for multi-scale time series.
Pilots can serve as a critical resource for agency insiders as they begin to deploy artificial intelligence, and considerations around built-in bias should be addressed from the earliest of efforts, federal officials with firsthand experience leveraging the technology said in Washington Tuesday. "One beauty of the cloud is you can do a pilot, and if it fails just turn it off--it's not like buying millions in servers and then find that you are going to go in a different direction," Small Business Administration Deputy Chief Information Officer Guy Cavallo said at Nextgov's Tech Talks. "We have actually done three 90-day sprint pilots that have revolutionized the way we work." Cavallo explained how SBA effectively implemented artificial intelligence and the cloud to enhance their cybersecurity capabilities and supplement what human employees are able to do. Elaborating on the success he's seen through various piloting projects related to that work, Cavallo said the agency participated in one with General Services Administration and Homeland Security Department for the Trusted Internet Connections initiative.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has opened a new artificial intelligence institute to pursue research and inform national strategy. The National Artificial Intelligence Institute, a joint initiative of the VA's office of research and development and the VA secretary's center for strategic partnerships, will work with public and private partners to carry out AI research and development projects, including efforts to apply AI to identify veterans at high risk for suicide or to help reduce patient wait times. The institute will also collaborate with federal agencies on national AI strategy. That includes building upon the American AI Initiative, the national AI strategy President Donald Trump established through an executive order in February. The American AI Initiative's goal is to promote AI innovation in numerous sectors, including healthcare.