The Department of Energy is working on a pair of projects related to generative artificial intelligence, Energy CIO Ann Dunkin told FedScoop in a recent interview.
These initiatives, which are still in development, include a user guide focused on how the technology correlates with the department’s existing IT guidelines as well as an AI Discovery Zone “sandbox” for working with these systems.
Both initiatives are focused on generative AI, said Dunkin, and come as other federal agencies wrestle with how to deploy, and monitor, these kinds of systems, which include OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard tools.
NASA, for example, sent a notice to employees earlier this year outlining how they should approach the technology, with some researchers at the agency now beginning efforts to test generative AI in a controlled environment. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is apparently exploring plans for a ChatGPT pilot for assistance in the rule-making project (though the agency says it’s not currently using generative AI for that purpose). Meanwhile, the Office of Management and Budget is expected to release guidance on federal agency use of the technology.
“When we talk about that guidance and the Discovery Zone, those are specifically around generative AI,” Dunkin told FedScoop. “Before ChatGPT, the barriers to entry to playing with AI were sufficiently high that we didn’t randomly have people just playing with AI. But now, generative AI creates a different set of opportunities for people to use it. So, definitely, there’s a lot of interest.”
Dunkin said that the department’s current IT policies provide “more than sufficient” guidelines on how to use AI, but added that the upcoming guide will also help connect those policies to the emerging technology.
“We have to remember that we have data that we steward for other people and the labs have federal data they steward for the government,” said Dunkin. “One of the reasons of Discovery Zone is to set up so that individuals are able to identify opportunities and then we’re gonna have to figure out how we build those things into our processes while protecting our data.”
More broadly, the Department of Energy has disclosed around 180 artificial intelligence use cases, according to an inventory the agency updated earlier this summer. Many of these use cases include work at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, but the technology is being used to help with the department’s internal operations, too.
While speaking with FedScoop, Dunkin added that several other agencies had asked the Energy Department for demos of a chatbot used by its small business team to help businesses apply to become vendors with the agency.