Agencies Are A Step Closer to Creating Their Own Siri

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Federal agencies are a step closer to automating some of their common customer service processes using artificial intelligence.

The General Services Administration recently wrapped a pilot that walked federal agencies through the process of building chatbots and other intelligent personal assistants similar to Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa.

Graduates of that pilot have developed some basic prototypes--a single chatbot that lets users access Small Business Administration licenses, Internal Revenue Service tax credits, Forest Service park permits, and Health and Human Services Department benefits, for one. But prototypes weren't the point of the pilot, GSA's Emerging Citizen Technology Office lead Justin Herman told Nextgov--instead, it was to help agencies understand what they'd need before they can fully deploy intelligent personal assistants.

One finding, Herman said, was that agencies need to assess their cloud services, as chatbots and voice-controlled virtual assistants would need to pull information from the internet. Agencies also need to think about the way they structure the data the assistants might pull from, especially if that includes personally identifiable information from citizens, he said.

It's not yet clear where in each federal agency responsibility for creating intelligent personal assistants falls, Herman told Nextgov. Agencies such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Labor Department completed the workshop and brought varying personnel, including public affairs officers, Python developers and innovation teams.

"No agency came at this pilot the same way," Herman said.

Herman's team, which has worked to help agencies adopt social media to better connect with citizens, has noticed new technology is generally initially relegated to a technology shop.

"Eventually, access to these services spreads down to the just the program level," Herman said, who explained he anticipates a similar pattern with intelligent personal assistants.

In the hackathon culminating the workshop, out of which agencies' prototypes emerged, federal employees worked alongside representatives from Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle. In the future, depending on the platform, agencies might be able to develop their own assistants in house with little coding knowledge. A Labor Department team put together three Amazon Alexa skills with no prior experience, for instance. Others might need to contract out to technology companies directly.

GSA is planning a showcase to demonstrate how intelligent personal assistants could be used in government. In the meantime, Herman's team is collecting feedback from agencies about how the pilot helped them and what they need to be able to develop their own virtual assistants.

Though it's summer and the White House has recently undergone a transition, Herman said he was surprised at how representatives from some agencies are already cooking up new project ideas. Some are thinking beyond "how can we apply this to [getting] open data into services," he said, and instead considering combining chatbots with web forms and call centers using artificial intelligence.

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Here’s How the Trump Budget Treats Cyber

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President Donald Trump's 2018 budget proposal boosts cyber defense funding at the Homeland Security Department and commits new money to help law enforcement fight cyber criminals and ferret out the communications of terrorists and criminals using cop-proof encryption.

The budget also touts that, for the first time, it aligns federal IT spending with a cybersecurity framework developed by the National institute of Standards and Technology. That was the main requirement of an executive order Trump released earlier this month, which mandated federal agencies adhere to the framework and stated agency leaders would be held personally responsible for lapses in cyber protections.

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Alexa, Can You Tell Me About GSA’s Virtual Assistant Pilot?

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three dimensional mobile phone isolated on white with clipping path
In the future, citizens seeking government services might not flock to websites. Instead, they might ask their Amazon Alexa, Apple's Siri or a text-based chatbot for help.
At least, that's the plan, per a new pilot program at the General Services Administration.
This week, GSA launched a pilot that would walk federal agencies through the process of setting up virtual assistants, powered by machine-learning and artificial intelligence technology, which can eventually be deployed to citizens.
The goal isn't just to produce more "intelligent personal assistants," or IPAs, GSA's Emerging Citizen Technology Office lead Justin Herman told Nextgov. It's also to build out a structure internally, complete with toolkits and guides, so agencies can decide for themselves whether this technology is worthwhile, he explained.
"The easiest part of this is actually building them," Herman added.

They're also learning how federal data can be presented so it's accessible to those virtual assistants, he added.
GSA plans to run the pilot over the next month and to be able to give agencies the policy, accessibility, security and privacy guidance they need to build a virtual assistant. Eventually, GSA could hand those findings to tech companies so they could better support agencies building IPAs on their platforms.
The pilot's first phase covers making read-only public data available to citizens agencies are considering future phases that are increasingly complex, Herman explained.
GSA's Emerging Citizen Technology Office is also working on similar programs related to virtual reality and augmented reality, Herman said.

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4 Reasons Why the Internet of Everything Will Require a New Breed of IT Pros

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Like many products and services we enjoy today, the Internet's origins rest within the halls of government.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, which laid the technology foundation for how the Internet works, was originally funded by the Defense Department. Just a few decades later, that foundation has been built upon to create an entity only the most visionary thinkers could have imagined: the Internet of Everything.

IoE is an interconnected web of systems that brings together people, processes, data and things. There are currently over 20 billion connected devices, representing less than 1 percent of physical objects. Cisco predicts that by 2020, 50 billion devices will be connected.

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CIA Live: Spy Agency Holds Public Summit


Originally posted on by Aliya Sternstein

In the first public conference given by the CIA, the agency's head defended the practice of surveilling cyberspace for threats, but questioned the extent to which potent tracking capabilities should be applied.

"If we are to understand the world we cover and to provide our policymakers with the intelligence that they expect, if not demand, we must immerse ourselves in that frontier and adjust our tradecraft accordingly," CIA Director John Brennan said at the event held Wednesday. "In developing powerful tools to meet this challenge, CIA and the community partners face a question that may be unprecedented in our history: If we possess an extraordinary technical capability and are legally authorized to use it, should we necessarily do so?"

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