In the future, artificial intelligence could augment the background investigative work performed by humans, cutting the time it takes and providing a more realistic, in-depth and realistic profile of the individual, the technical director for research and development and technology transfer at the Defense Security Service’s National Background Investigative Services said recently.
Mark Nehmer spoke at the “Genius Machines: The New Age of Artificial Intelligence” event, hosted by Nextgov and Defense One, March 29 in Arlington, Virginia.
Millions of service members, federal employees and contractors receive background checks and are issued clearances on a periodic basis.
Problems with the Current System
There are several problems with the current system of background investigations, Nehmer said.
— There aren’t enough investigators to do the work.
— The process takes too long.
— Investigations of individuals occur only once every five or 10 years and something amiss could occur in the intervening time that the system doesn’t catch.
— The investigations are limited in scope and don’t always focus on the right variables.
Using Artificial Intelligence
The use of artificial intelligence, or AI, could significantly reduce the time it takes investigations and ease the strain on already-overworked personnel and reduce the backlog of cases, Nehmer said.
Additionally, AI could help prevent “a Snowden-like event,” he said, referring to the former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor who stole and leaked highly classified information from the NSA in 2013.
Situations like that could be prevented because AI would continuously monitor data shared from various agencies like banks and police records, together with such things as social media activities, Nehmer said.
AI would look for suspicious or unusual activity or patterns, using its algorithms and machine learning to alert that there’s a potential problem, he said.
AI Could Benefit Employees
The use of AI might seem like an intrusion on the privacy and rights of government workers, Nehmer said, but detection of a problem wouldn’t necessarily result in someone being fired or reprimanded.
For example, if an AI algorithm found that an employee is going too far into debt, that person could be offered financial planning assistance and counseling, he said.
AI could also point out other problems, such as stress, depression or possible suicidal ideation, Nehmer said. In that case, he said, professional counseling and treatment would be the preferred steps for an employer to offer that employee.
It’s somewhat difficult for an investigator to look at human behavior and try to understand that behavior and what it means and what the level of risk might be, Nehmer said. But, he noted, AI will never replace human investigators or their decisions. What AI will do is become a valuable tool to assist in the investigative process.
Nehmer did not provide a timeline for AI being incorporated into background investigation, but he did say work is being done to make this happen should a decision to roll it out be made.