emerging technology (Andrea Danti/Shutterstock.com)

Show and tell for emerging tech

The General Services Administration's Emerging Citizen Technology Office opened its monthy inter-agency meeting to the public for the first time on April 11, updating attendees and webcast viewers on progress bringing new technologies to agencies across the government.

The emerging technology working groups address virtual reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotic process automation and social technologies. Other groups focus on academic outreach, bringing in the startup community, training, creating leadership in the federal government and opening up government data to private sector access.

GSA launched the first emerging technology working groups more than a year ago and has spent the last year testing the waters for these technologies to ensure they are viable for government use, according to Justin Herman, who leads the Emerging Citizen Technology Office.

“Over the last year we started with little pilot programs, things to bring people to the table, that make them comfortable with this approach,” Herman said. "We’ve got a ground swell of momentum.”

Information about meetings will be shared on the emerging technology groups' website and over listservs devoted to each group, he said.

What exactly each group will accomplish is yet to be determined, as there is “no set roadmap forward on this,” Herman said. The April 11 meeting was the first time GSA had invited industry, academia and the public to attend, and Herman said the agency hopes all three sectors will help the working groups develop their roadmaps.

Updates from emerging tech working groups included:

Blockchain: The National Institution for Standards and Technology received more than 200 pages of comments on its draft Blockchain Technology Overview, according to NIST computer scientist Dylan Yaga. The report is part of Yaga’s effort to build an internal blockchain workbench within NIST for researchers in the cryptographic technology group to explore blockchain technology in “a production-like environment that’s still internal to NIST.”

Voice assistants: Thirty agencies participated in GSA’s voice assistant pilot project to identify the potential for the technology. “Rather than us saying, ‘Well we have an idea of how [voice assistants] could be used,’” Herman said, “we now have a stable of ready-to go-services.”

One roadblock currently holding back the rollout of voice assistants on Alexa and other devices is the need for specific terms of service, which will require working directly with companies like Amazon. Recent news of Facebook's mishandling of user data highlights the need for these specific terms, he said.

Robotic process automation: GSA is considering holding a robotic process automation day to focus on problems the technology can solve and how agencies can implement it. “It’s tentative right now,” Herman said.

Interagency management dashboard: A Trello dashboard tracking all of the emerging technology projects will soon be opened up to other government agencies.

Venture capital advisory group: GSA is starting a group to advise venture capitalists, according to Jennifer Hoover, the deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Venture & Innovation. The group will officially launch in May and focus on helping new companies bring their products to government. “The government really [doesn't] have a lot of interaction with startups at this time, and there are ways for [VCs] to get into the government,” Hoover said.

The specific VC firms the group is working with will be announced next month, she said.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.


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