National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last week announced the release of its long-anticipated Plan for federal engagement and U.S. leadership on artificial intelligence (AI) standards.

Titled, U.S. Leadership in AI: A Plan for Federal Engagement in Developing Technical Standards and Related Tools, it recommends that the federal government “commit to deeper, consistent, long-term engagement” in activities to help the United States speed the pace of reliable, robust and trustworthy AI technology development that will be critical to both U.S. and international regulatory and policy approaches.

A February 2019 Executive Order directed NIST to develop a plan that would, among other objectives, “ensure that technical standards minimize vulnerability to attacks from malicious actors and reflect Federal priorities for innovation, public trust, and public confidence in systems that use AI technologies; and develop international standards to promote and protect those priorities.”

The plan recommends the federal government bolster AI standards-related knowledge, leadership and coordination among agencies that develop or use AI; promote focused research on the trustworthiness of AI systems; support and expand public-private partnerships; and engage with international parties.

“The federal government can help the U.S. maintain its leadership in AI by working closely with our experts in industry and academia, investing in research, and engaging with the international standards community,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Walter G. Copan.

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“This plan provides a path to ensure the federal government supports AI standards that are flexible and inclusive—and suited for a world of rapidly changing technologies and applications,” he added.

Due to the rapid pace of technology development and changing understandings of the “trustworthiness, accessibility, and human-centered implications of AI,” the plan emphasizes the need for federal agencies to be flexible in selecting AI standards for use in regulatory or procurement actions.

It also calls for prioritizing multidisciplinary research and expanding public-private partnerships to advance reliable, robust and trustworthy AI. The plan also highlights related tools that will be needed to support AI, including benchmarks, evaluations and challenges that could drive creative problem solving.

While the plan notes that “serious work on AI-specific standards has only recently begun in earnest,” its appendices list existing IT standards applicable to AI, and ongoing activities regarding AI standards and related tools.