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AI Brings ‘Tremendous Promise’ to Security, Traveling Experience

Agency leaders are looking at responsibly integrating the emerging technology into agency operations.

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TSA Deputy CIO Kristin Ruiz said Dec. 5, 2023, that "machine learning models and adaptive AI algorithms will transform the future of travel."
TSA Deputy CIO Kristin Ruiz said Dec. 5, 2023, that "machine learning models and adaptive AI algorithms will transform the future of travel." Photo Credit: GovAI Summit

The Department of Homeland Security sees artificial intelligence as a tool to move the agency into the future, officials said Tuesday at the GovAI Summit in Arlington, Virginia. Agency leaders said the technology will help streamline operations, crunch data more quickly and improve customer interactions.

“Imagine embarking on a journey where the seamless orchestration of technology transforms traditional security,” TSA Deputy CIO Kristin Ruiz said at the event. “In the future, AI-powered advancements signify an evolution driven by data science, analytics and intelligent automation that will transform TSA operations and the technology available to its travelers.”

In addition to improvements for the traveler experience, AI could improve baggage screening with image-recognition capabilities. It could also help create dynamic operational training scenarios and analytics systems that proactively identify and mitigate potential threats across transportation systems.

“Imagine AI-driven analytics systems across multimodal transit hubs to assess real-time problem behavior, unattended items and potential threat patterns,” Ruiz said. “These systems will use machine learning to analyze vast data streams from sensors and cameras predicting and identifying anomalous behavior or things that could pose a potential security risk.”

DHS has a critical role outlined in the White House’s AI strategy and executive order that directs the agency to assess potential risks related to AI use in critical infrastructure, as well as establish safety and security guidelines for it. Specifically, the order tasks DHS with coordinating with international allies and partners to prevent and recover from potential disruptions resulting from AI or its malicious use.

Last week, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said there is “tremendous promise” to advance the agency’s mission, a statement echoed by DHS Chief Scientist Sam Howerton at the event Tuesday.

“Responsibly designed AI for the department gives us the chance to provide services at scale and speed we have not been able to before. It’s going to reduce the friction that people have,” Howerton said. “The future of Homeland Security admin, from a customer perspective, is one driven by decreased friction and faster response times. … There’s no doubt in my mind that the scale and complexity of the DHS mission is going to continue to grow.”

Howerton emphasized that AI adoption will need to be based in human-centered design. In keeping with the White House executive order, Howerton highlighted the need to responsibly develop AI with the next generation in mind.

“Our human-centered approach has to take into account not only our customers and our operators, but I daresay the operators in the future, as well. Because these geopolitical forces, these technological forces, are going to continue to kind of impress upon us,” Howerton said. “What happens when people are no longer the primary interrogator of our cyber physical systems?”

Ruiz also said that the future will require responsibly designed AI and augmented reality systems to balance privacy and security. Keeping pace with AI will be an all-of-government job.

“It takes all of us coming together and working toward evolving security to protect our nation and its travelers,” she said. “Embracing AI assures that travel security doesn’t just keep pace with changing privacy.”

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