The Face in the Machine: Facial Recognition Application in Government

When your grandma is using her face to unlock her iPhone, you know a technology has gone mainstream. Facial Recognition "is a biometric software application capable of uniquely identifying or verifying a person by comparing and analyzing patterns based on the person's facial contours." In the last four years, there has been a jump in the use of the technology as vendors have begun to use convolutional neural networks (CNN), a deep learning methodology and algorithms, for model training. A National Institute of Standards and Technology test of vendors in 2018 showed a 95% reduction in error rate compared to a similar test completed in 2014. Applications of facial recognition in government include security (access to devices, data, and physical locations), law enforcement (matching video footage of a crime to a database of suspects), and identity verification for travel.

While the technology has come a long way, many argue it still has a way to go before it can be used widely in areas as critical as criminal justice and security. There are calls for regulation by the FTC and other federal entities. While there are accuracy benchmarks that vendors must pass to be used in government, in many cases, the groups used in benchmarks are not as diverse as those that the system will interact with once fielded. Regulation proponents argue that much of the facial recognition technology was designed with the majority of subjects being white males. When the system faces (pun intended) women with dark skin, the accuracy they promise plummets significantly.

With these challenges both in technology and policy, there are a number of events to help sort out the next steps in introducing facial recognition. Continue reading

Innovation is Local

Local governments are quickly becoming home to some of the most innovative applications of big data, analytics, machine learning, IoT, and artificial intelligence. This embrace of new technology is borne out of necessity. Local governments have had to get creative to meet the needs of citizens, demanding a more digital government, while dealing with tight budgets. Cities have introduced apps that allow citizens to report potholes, they have installed "smart" lighting to conserve energy, government organizations have opened up data to allow people to apply for permits online and see the status of their case, and so much more. Additionally, local governments are taking a new look at how to better use and correlate all of the data they hold to enhance city and public health planning.

In the midst of these exciting applications of new technologies, there are challenges. Privacy is a huge concern, both from a data perspective as well as images and information captured from IoT devices across a city. There's also a communication and publicity challenge. Citizen-centric apps and services do no good if people don't know they exist or don't use them. Similarly, there is a learning curve for employees and citizens, and developing the right training to encourage new technology use is critical. Continue reading

Data Centers Continue Their Starring Role

 

Around this same time last year we wrote about the federal government's focus on consolidating data centers for better IT efficiency. The Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) that is driving changes across government has extended its deadlines for agency compliance. Originally, agencies were to meet a variety of consolidation, energy efficiency, and cost reduction goals by the end of calendar year 2018. With fewer than one in five Federal data center leaders saying that their data center was on track to meet their DCOI goals, an extension seemed inevitable. Now, agencies have until 2020 to install energy metering tools, use automated monitoring and operations, maximize floor space use in existing data centers, reduce data center costs by 25%, in addition to a number of other cost savings and efficiency goals.

In addition to DCOI, agencies are also looking to comply with the Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT) that looks at government IT as a whole, incorporating data centers into the overall plans to modernize how government procures and uses technology for citizen service.

A third driver for modernizing the data center is the desire to do more with the data we have. No longer is a data center a place to store information, it is a place to interact with information. Continue reading

The Future of AI in Government

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer just a plot line for science fiction movies. The reality of AI is not walking robots threatening to take over human tasks, but instead it is being implemented in our daily lives to complement the way people work and learn. For example, known by their first names Alexa and Siri, these AI figures will soon overtake Cher and Madonna as the most famous one-named women in the world (if they haven't already). AI is also what enables the instant customer service "representative" to pop up on a website to help answer basic questions. With its commonplace use in the commercial market, AI and machine learning are making their way into agencies across government.[Tweet "AI and machine learning are making their way into agencies across government. #GovEventsBlog"]

AI is becoming a key tool to help streamline response to citizen questions as citizen (customer) service has become a top priority across all government agencies. The IRS is beginning to use chatbots to help manage the 75 million phone calls, and 500 billion website visits from taxpayers each year (a number that will likely grow with tax changes). There's also interest in how AI can improve cybersecurity posture by automating more and more cyber monitoring so that systems are responding to threats at machine speed. AI also holds the answer to many big data challenges. The speed of automated machine processing can help agencies get more value out of the massive amounts of data they own for improved service, programs, and mission achievement. Continue reading

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

From time to time GovEvents will come across information we feel our members and audience would benefit from. Here's something we wanted to share:
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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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