Portman, Heinrich, Ernst, and Schatz Amendment on Explainable Artificial Intelligence Included in Senate-Passed NDAA

Ensures Congress and Military Understand New Aspect of Artificial Intelligence

June 28, 2019 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DCToday, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), the co-founders of the Senate Artificial Intelligence Caucus, along with Caucus members Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), announced passage of their amendment on explainable artificial intelligence (AI) in the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Explainable AI refers to artificial intelligence systems that allow human users to understand, trust, and characterize the strengths and weaknesses of the system’s decision making process. Deploying explainable AI will have profound implications for society and the economy, including the use of autonomous weapons and vehicles, as will efforts to mitigate the bias that may result from automated decision making. This Senate-passed amendment would require the Department of Defense to brief Congress on a number of factors related to its use of explainable AI, including the extent to which the Department of Defense currently uses and prioritizes the use of explainable AI, the limitations of explainable AI, and potential roadblocks to the effective deployment of explainable AI.

“Explainable AI has a lot to offer. As we deploy autonomous systems, we also should understand why those systems make the decisions they do. By requiring our military to think about the uses of explainable AI, the capabilities and limitations of the technology, and the obstacles to the deployment of explainable systems, the inclusion of this amendment in the Senate-passed NDAA is a step towards that goal.” said Senator Portman. 

“Our national security has reached a point where it needs more advanced artificial intelligence systems – but we also need to know that we can trust these technologies and the preface behind any form of autonomous decision making,” said Senator Heinrich. “For this reason, it is so important for the U.S. Department of Defense to better understand, and move forward, emerging AI with clarity behind its decisions – explainable AI. That is why I have joined my fellow colleagues to call on the Secretary of Defense to brief congressional defense committees on the development and applications of explainable artificial intelligence. A step in the right direction to better utilize groundbreaking opportunities in AI.” 

“We’re always looking for ways to equip our servicemembers with cutting edge technology to maintain a competitive advantage. Artificial intelligence does just that, but there’s still a lot we need to learn. By requiring the Pentagon to provide Congress with important information about explainable AI, we will be able to better understand its capabilities, limitations, and reasoning for certain decisions that are critical to our nation’s defense,” said Senator Joni Ernst, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.  

“Algorithms are amoral. So when the Department of Defense puts AI to work in the battlefield, in cyber operations, or to help manage a workforce of nearly three million people, we need to know how the technology works and makes decisions,” said Senator Schatz. “This amendment will help Congress better understand AI and how to incorporate human judgement into these powerful AI systems.”