DHS wants to use AI to protect homeland security


Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, speaks during a new conference in Brownsville, Texas, US, Thursday, August 12, 2021.

Veronica G. Cardenas | Bloomberg | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security will create a new task force to examine how the government can use artificial intelligence technology to protect the country.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the task force Friday during a speech at a Council on Foreign Relations event. This comes as popular AI tools like ChatGPT have captured the public’s attention and raised hopes and fears about how it might be used in the future. Mayorkas’ announcement shows that the Biden administration is looking for ways to harness the potential benefits of AI, while considering the possible harms.

“Our department will lead the responsible use of AI to secure the homeland,” Mayorkas said, while pledging to defend “against the malicious use of this transformational technology.”

He added: “In doing so, we will ensure that our use of AI is rigorously tested to avoid bias and disparate impacts and is clearly explainable to the people we serve.”

Many tech leaders have raised concerns about the rapid development of so-called generative AI models, fearing that their progress and potential harm will outpace the ability to introduce reasonable safeguards. But at the same time, tech companies developing advanced AI models and policymakers recognize that the United States is in a fast-paced race against China to create the best AI.

Mayorkas gave two examples of how the task force will help determine how AI could be used to refine the agency’s work. One is to deploy AI in DHS systems that screen freight for goods produced by forced labor. The second is to use technology to better detect fentanyl in shipments to the United States, as well as identify and stop the flow of “precursor chemicals” used to produce the dangerous drug.

Mayorkas asked Homeland Security Advisory Council Co-Chair Jamie Gorelick to study “the intersection of AI and homeland security and provide findings that will help guide our use and defense against it.”

The announcement adds to the government’s efforts to boost its AI capabilities. On Wednesday, the US Central Command, which oversees the country’s mission in the Middle East and North Africa, announcement he had hired former Google AI Cloud director Andrew Moore to serve as his first adviser on AI, robotics, cloud computing and data analytics. CENTCOM said Moore would advise its leaders on applying AI and other technologies to its missions and assist with innovation task forces.

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