Contracting officers: Get ready to meet your robot overlords

Contracting officers: Get ready to meet your robot overlords

While robots maybe poised to take manual repetitive tasks away from humans, they’ll never replace jobs that require research and critical analysis, like government contracting – or so says conventional wisdom. The Air Force may challenge that thinking, however, with a cognitive computing program geared for acquisitions.

In cognitive computing, self-learning systems use data mining, pattern recognition and natural language to tackle complex situations that are characterized by change, ambiguity and uncertainty. The technology helps humans by leveraging the data crunching power of the machines to sift through massive collections of diverse information that can be applied to the current problem.

The Air Force has been searching – and in fact is ready to award a contract – for a cognitive computing tool, similar to IBM’s Watson of “Jeopardy!” fame, to tackle the knotty issue of acquisitions.  “This is a little whimsical, but not really,” Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Bill LaPlante told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). His office wants to use cognitive computing for the Air Force’s Acquisition Prime (AQ’) program, which seeks innovative, broad-ranging and rapid improvements to Air Force acquisition processes and systems. 

“Well we know the situation in acquisition is pretty hard – slow and cumbersome – that’s an understatement,” LaPlante said.  AQ’, he explained, would to use cognitive computing to help program managers and contracting officers navigate the Federal Acquisition Regulations and other policies governing defense procurement.

In January 2015 the Air Force Research Lab released a small-business innovative research solicitation in January to develop cognitive computing resources that would make Air Force and Defense Department contracting more accessible to internal and external customers. An award is expected at the end of July.

Following LaPlante’s speech, CSIS’ Andrew Philip Hunter quipped, “I just this second learned that my job is going to be taken by a robot … because we spend a lot of time analyzing [the Federal Procurement Data System], which now computers will do. But I for one embrace our new robot overlords.”   

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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