State Dept prioritizes ‘AI-ready workforce’ in its first AI strategy

The department's AI strategy reflects Secretary of State Antony Blinken's focus on modernizing and expanding the role of U.S. diplomacy to focus on emerging tec...

The State Department sees artificial intelligence tools as the key to turning its wealth of data into real-world diplomatic insights, and maximizing the impact of its workforce.

The State Department on Nov. 9 released its first enterprise AI strategy.

The department’s AI strategy reflects Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s focus on modernizing and expanding the role of U.S. diplomacy to focus on emerging tech issues.

The AI strategy also follows the Biden administration’s sweeping executive order focused on stepping up the federal government’s internal use of AI tools.

The strategy also focuses on how AI can help the department’s Center for Analytics, its hub of data experts launched in 2020, provide more real-time insights to its diplomats worldwide.

Among its goals, the department’s AI strategy is focused on developing a workforce that embraces AI technology.

Blinken wrote in the strategy that the State Department is focused on recruiting, upskilling and retention to build an “AI-ready workforce.”

“The department will best position our diplomats to take advantage of the foreign policy insights and operational efficiencies AI promises, while mitigating its risks,” Blinken wrote.

Blinken added that AI serves as a “transformative tool in our diplomatic arsenal.”

“From citizen services to foreign policy analysis and even negotiation advantages, AI offers us an opportunity to enhance our efforts with original insights and beyond-human processing speed,” Blinken wrote.

Matthew Graviss, the department’s chief data and AI officer, told members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Nov. 15 that the Center for Analytics is seeing a “booming demand for data and AI services across the department.”

He added that, over the past three years, CfA has received more than 350 project requests from all corners of the department.

Graviss said the Center for Analytics is “positioning federal data science skills as close to the mission as possible.”

CfA, for example, is working with the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations to use AI-powered computer vision tools to document war crimes in Ukraine using satellite imagery.

The department is also using AI tools to declassify diplomatic cables more quickly.

Graviss said machine learning tools have achieved a 97% accuracy rate in declassifying cables under the Freedom of Information Act with the same precision as department employees.

These automation tools, he added, have decreased employees’ declassification workload by 60%

Graviss said the department sees AI tools as “a force multiplier to increase operational efficiencies.”

“We see this as a real opportunity to reduce the type of repetitive, rote work that happens across the department, both domestically and overseas,” Graviss said.

Nathaniel Fick, ambassador at large for cyberspace and digital policy, told lawmakers that AI is “transforming every aspect of our foreign policy,” and that the department is working with allies to shape international norms around the ethical use of AI tools.

“Put simply in geopolitical terms, tech is increasingly the game. It’s revolutionary. It’s accelerating, and the United States must lead, engaging boldly on behalf of our values and our interests,” Fick said.

“The decisions that we make today about how we shaped the parameters around AI will define the world in so many ways for decades to come,” he added.

The bureau is also taking steps to limit the influence of adversaries that are using AI tools in ways that don’t align with U.S. values.

“We’re under no naive illusion that our adversaries are going to comply with our norms. But building a broad coalition, setting the normative example at least puts our adversaries outside of that framework. So then we have the legitimacy and the moral authority to call them out on it,” Fick said.

Congressional leaders also support making sure the department has the workforce and technology needed to stay AI-ready.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said AI will allow the State Department to make better use of data that “has not always been well-organized or used to its fullest potential.”

“State needs to unlock the insights from this novel data, and you have the workforce to do just that,” Cardin said.

Committee Ranking Member James Risch (R-Idaho) said that, if used effectively, AI tools can help the department better stay ahead of the latest cybersecurity threats, and make its workforce more effective.

“We need a workforce that not only understands how data and AI and machine learning work, but also how to integrate these tools into their daily work,” Risch said.

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