Artificial Intelligence and National Security, and More from CRS

The 2019 defense authorization act directed the Secretary of Defense to produce a definition of artificial intelligence (AI) by August 13, 2019 to help guide law and policy. But that was not done.

Therefore “no official U.S. government definition of AI yet exists,” the Congressional Research Service observed in a newly updated report on the subject.

But plenty of other unofficial and sometimes inconsistent definitions do exist. And in any case, CRS noted, “AI research is underway in the fields of intelligence collection and analysis, logistics, cyber operations, information operations, command and control, and in a variety of semiautonomous and autonomous vehicles. Already, AI has been incorporated into military operations in Iraq and Syria.”

“The Central Intelligence Agency alone has around 140 projects in development that leverage AI in some capacity to accomplish tasks such as image recognition and predictive analytics.” CRS surveys the field in Artificial Intelligence and National Security, updated November 21, 2019.

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The 2018 financial audit of the Department of Defense, which was the first such audit ever, cost a stunning $413 million to perform. Its findings were assessed by CRS in another new report. See Department of Defense First Agency-wide Financial Audit (FY2018): Background and Issues for Congress, November 27, 2019.

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The Arctic region is increasingly important as a focus of security, environmental and economic concern. So it is counterintuitive — and likely counterproductive — that the position of U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic has been left vacant since January 2017. In practice it has been effectively eliminated by the Trump Administration. See Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress, updated November 27, 2019.

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Other noteworthy new and updated CRS reports include the following (which are also available through the CRS public website at

Resolutions to Censure the President: Procedure and History, updated November 20, 2019

Immigration: Recent Apprehension Trends at the U.S. Southwest Border, November 19, 2019

Air Force B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber, updated November 13, 2019

Precision-Guided Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress, November 6, 2019

Space Weather: An Overview of Policy and Select U.S. Government Roles and Responsibilities, November 20, 2019

Intelligence Community Spending: Trends and Issues, updated November 6, 2019

Limits on Free Expression: An International View

While many countries recognize freedom of speech as a fundamental value, every country also imposes some legal limits on free speech.

A new report from the Law Library of Congress surveys the legal limitations on free expression in thirteen countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Israel, Japan, Germany, France, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine.

“In particular, the report focuses on the limits of protection that may apply to the right to interrupt or affect in any other way public speech. The report also addresses the availability of mechanisms to control foreign broadcasters working on behalf of foreign governments,” wrote Ruth Levush in the document summary. See Limits on Freedom of Expression, Law Library of Congress, June 2019.

Some other noteworthy recent reports from the Law Library of Congress include the following.

Initiatives to Counter Fake News in Selected Countries, April 2019

Regulation of Artificial Intelligence in Selected Jurisdictions, January 2019

Pentagon Pursues Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as machine learning are already being used by the Department of Defense in operations in Iraq and Syria, and they have many potential uses in intelligence processing, military logistics, cyber defense, as well as autonomous weapon systems.

The range of such applications for defense and intelligence is surveyed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

The CRS report also reviews DoD funding for AI, international competition in the field, including Chinese investment in US AI companies, and the foreseeable impacts of AI technologies on the future of combat. See Artificial Intelligence and National Security, April 26, 2018.

“We’re going to have self-driving vehicles in theater for the Army before we’ll have self-driving cars on the streets,” Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering told Congress last month (as reported by Bloomberg).

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S. Programs and Policy, April 25, 2018

OPIC, USAID, and Proposed Development Finance Reorganization, April 27, 2018

OPEC and Non-OPEC Crude Oil Production Agreement: Compliance StatusCRS Insight, April 26, 2018

What Is the Farm Bill?, updated April 26, 2018

A Shift in the International Security Environment: Potential Implications for Defense–Issues for Congress, updated April 26, 2018

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated April 27, 2018

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, updated April 25, 2018

Russian Compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: Background and Issues for Congress, updated April 25, 2018

The First Responder Network (FirstNet) and Next-Generation Communications for Public Safety: Issues for Congress, April 27, 2018

African American Members of the United States Congress: 1870-2018, updated April 26, 2018

JASON: Artificial Intelligence for Health Care

The field of artificial intelligence is habitually susceptible to exaggerated claims and expectations. But when it comes to new applications in health care, some of those claims may prove to be valid, says a new report from the JASON scientific advisory panel.

“Overall, JASON finds that AI is beginning to play a growing role in transformative changes now underway in both health and health care, in and out of the clinical setting.”

“One can imagine a day where people could, for instance, 1) use their cell phone to check their own cancer or heart disease biomarker levels weekly to understand their own personal baseline and trends, or 2) ask a partner to take a cell-phone-based HIV test before a sexual encounter.”

Already, automated skin cancer detection programs have demonstrated performance comparable to human dermatologists.

The JASON report was requested and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. See Artificial Intelligence for Health and Health Care, JSR-17-Task-002, December 2017.

Benefits aside, there are new opportunities for deception and scams, the report said.

“There is potential for the proliferation of misinformation that could cause harm or impede the adoption of AI applications for health. Websites, apps, and companies have already emerged that appear questionable based on information available.”

Fundamentally, the JASONs said, the future of AI in health care depends on access to private health data.

“The availability of and access to high quality data is critical in the development and ultimate implementation of AI applications. The existence of some such data has already proven its value in providing opportunities for the development of AI applications in medical imaging.”

“A major initiative is just beginning in the U.S. to collect a massive amount of individual health data, including social behavioral information. This is a ten year, $1.5B National Institutes of Health (NIH) Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) project called All of Us Research Program. The goal is to develop a 1,000,000 person-plus cohort of individuals across the country willing to share their biology, lifestyle, and environment data for the purpose of research.”

But all such efforts raise knotty questions of data security and personal privacy.

“PMI has recognized from the start of this initiative that no amount of de-identification (anonymization) of the data will guarantee the privacy protection of the participants.”

Lately, the US Government has barred access by non-US researchers to a National Cancer Institute database concerning Medicare recipients, according to a story in The Lancet Oncology. See “International access to major US cancer database halted” by Bryant Furlow, January 18, 2018 (sub. req’d.).