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US bolsters AI ambitions with Open Government Data Act

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President Trump has signed the Open Government Data Act into law, potentially unleashing a tsunami of data for AI applications to be trained with.

The bill itself has been bouncing around Washington for some time now, though it has officially been signed into law. Within one year, all government agencies will have to ensure data sets are open and accessible to the general public and businesses, as well as being presented in a format that can be easily processed by a computer without human intervention. The act also hopes to make the data more accessible through smartphones.

“The government-wide law will transform the way the government collects, publishes, and uses non-sensitive public information,” said Sarah Joy Hays, Acting Executive Director of the Data Coalition, a public interest group which promotes transparency in government and business.

“Title II, the Open Government Data Act, which our organization has been working on for over three and a half years, sets a presumption that all government information should be open data by default: machine-readable and freely-reusable.”

For the digital ecosystem, such a bill should be welcomed with open arms. For any AI application to work effectively it needs to be trained. For years, many have claimed data is the new oil, although we suspect they did not mean in this manner. If the US is to create a leadership position in the developing AI ecosystem, its applications will need to be the best around and therefore will have to have the appropriate data sets to improve performance and accuracy.

Open data is of course not a new idea however. Back in September during Broadband World Forum in Berlin, we sat through several entertaining presentations from individual cities laying out their smart city ambitions. There was one common theme throughout the session; open data. These local governments realise the potential of empowering local digital ecosystems through open data, and the initiatives are proving to be successful.

This new law will force all federal agencies to make all non-sensitive data public in a machine-readable format and catalogue it online. New individuals must be appointed as Chief Data Officers to oversee the process, and new procedures will be introduced. While it seems incredibly obvious, when proposing new laws or regulations agencies will now have to justify the changes with supporting data. As it stands, only a handful of agencies are required to do this, the FCC is one of them, though this law ensures the validation and justification of new rules through data is rolled out across the board.

As with everything to do with data, there are of course privacy concerns. The text of the bill does seem to take this into account, one clause states any data released to the public will have to adhere to the Privacy Act of 1974, though there is bound to be a few blunders. Such a tangent should compound the importance of hiring a Chief Data Officer and a team of individuals who are appropriately trained. We suspect there will be few current employees in the agencies who could ensure compliance here.

Of course, this is not a law which will make an immediate impact. With any fundamental changes, such as this, procedures and systems will have to be updated. The procurement process is most likely, or at least we hope, underway and there will certainly be growing pains.

That said, if the US wants to make a meaningful dent on the AI world, the right tools and data need to be put in the hands of the right people. This is a step in the right direction.

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