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I came across the following article in FCW and I’m absolutely baffled.  

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For starters, I don’t understand how utilizing AI will make the contracting process innovative or faster.  In regards to innovation, presumably an AI system can only return results based on the data it already has in its database which, by its very nature, is empirical - so how will that create new processes, techniques, or best practices?  In regards to speed, AI assistance for making Contracting Officer decisions isn’t going to make a dent in acquisition process timelines unless those AI outputs aren’t subject to the clearance and review processes (aka if leadership wants COs to cede their authority and ability to make decisions to AI they should be equally willing to do the same).

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The report noted that to prepare the system, contracting officers must first upload massive amounts of data to inform AI's decision-making -- a "major effort before the system can be helpful."

From what I’ve seen, there is a growing myopic obsession with data and speed - I’d prefer that instead of undertaking a “major effort” to enable an AI system, we instead undertake a “major effort” to enable the acquisition workforce with the right education and materials.  One can hope...

Maybe my concerns are overblown, but I’ve seen hints of the damage that an automated system can have on workforce competency (e.g. “clause logic” systems).

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Guest Vern Edwards

AI can facilitate and speed the acquisition process whenever a decision of any kind must be made that can be made on the basis of an algorithm. Every facet of acquisition can be structured in terms of a decision making process--contract type selection, CLIN structuring, clause selection, proposal evaluation, source selection, determinations of cost allowability, determinations of price reasonableness, claim decisions, etc.

It's clear that the people we now call COs will be mainly data processing techs in the not-too-distant future. Certainly within a generation, if that's what management wants.

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Matthew - I have for years thought that software can do the bulk of what a CO can, and it can do it faster, cheaper, and more accurately. Of course, there would still be points along the course of an acquisition that require human input, and more complex acquisitions might require greater human involvement, but I believe that automation is the future of the contracting profession.

Having read many of your comments here at Wifcon, and knowing how knowledgeable you are, I'm actually really surprised that you don't see merit in this approach. I hate to come across as overly-negative, but truly, quality contracting personnel are an exception (in the DC region, anyway). You need only to pull a random contract file or try to hold a FAR-based conversation with a random CO, and you will likely see that this is the case. And no amount of training or "materials" will change this, both of which require a willingness on the part of the participant to work. (If you want to improve the workforce with people, raising salaries and threatening jobs are better starting points in my opinion.)

(I want to emphasize that I have met numerous 1102s in my career who I consider to be strong. But they are significantly outnumbered by the weak ones.)

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First there will have to be a huge investment in the IT budget.  We still don't even have an electronic offer system in my service - to go to full AI it will take that and a LOT more.  The biggest hurdle would be on best value tradeoff decisions, but there's ways (some for better, some for worse) you could automate that as well.

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Guest PepeTheFrog

PepeTheFrog, for one, welcomes our new AI contracting overlords. Robocop would make better decisions than the average GS-13 contract specialist. 

Automation, AI, algorithms, and machine learning will bring us closer and closer to the warm and fuzzy goal of corporate feudalism.

Our betters (some call them "leaders" or "elites") want us to import millions of low-skilled peasants at the same time as we hurtle toward automation and new frontiers of technology.

What could go wrong?

Who needs a coherent and unified culture, a shared sense of civic duty, or a national character when you can efficiently farm humans with a Universal Basic Income and an entertainment and spying device in every pocket and bedroom? 

Only a Luddite or xenophobe would object. Progress!

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27 minutes ago, PepeTheFrog said:

PepeTheFrog, for one, welcomes our new AI contracting overlords. Robocop would make better decisions than the average GS-13 contract specialist. 

Automation, AI, algorithms, and machine learning will bring us closer and closer to the warm and fuzzy goal of corporate feudalism.

Our betters (some call them "leaders" or "elites") want us to import millions of low-skilled peasants at the same time as we hurtle toward automation and new frontiers of technology.

What could go wrong?

Who needs a coherent and unified culture, a shared sense of civic duty, or a national character when you can efficiently farm humans with a Universal Basic Income and an entertainment and spying device in every pocket and bedroom? 

Only a Luddite or xenophobe would object. Progress!

Where might one subscribe to your newsletter?

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Here’s some more food for thought on AI from this news this week:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/ais-ability-to-read-hailed-as-historical-milestone-but-computers-arent-quite-there/2018/01/16/04638f2e-faf6-11e7-a46b-a3614530bd87_story.html?utm_term=.f12ad2e2acde

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“Technically it’s an accomplishment, but it’s not like we have to begin worshiping our robot overlords,” said Ernest Davis, a New York University professor of computer science and longtime AI researcher.

 

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Maybe the robots will make their humans “pets” someday. 

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  • 3 months later...

I was reminded of this discussion while reading Thinking, Fast and Slow recently (an excellent book on human psychology and behavior, for those who haven't read it). In it, there is a chapter on Intuition vs. Formulas. The takeaway is that formulas and algorithms are usually far better at judging situations and predicting outcomes than human intuition for two primary reasons:

  1. people tend to over-complicate matters; and
  2. people can have vastly different conclusions about the same set of data because of innumerable variables having nothing to do with the subject at hand, including minute environmental differences that influence perception.

The book goes on to state that intuition can add value in some circumstances, particularly if the data on which the judgment is based is objective and predictable. 

I also think another chapter in the book, Illusion of Validity, informs this discussion. Humans tend to have a subjective belief in their judgments and predictions, even when there is objective evidence of low correlation between judgment and outcome (e.g., professional stock traders). When we are confident in our judgment, it is typically because our mind has constructed a sufficiently coherent narrative, which may or may not conform to reality.

Considering this, it seems utterly reckless to me to have tens of thousands of COs, whose qualifications are varied and typically not strenuous, making decisions on behalf of our Government based on personal discretion and interpretation of a regulation renowned for its flexibility. Bring on Skynet, I say. Worth the risk.

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1 hour ago, Don Mansfield said:

I've become a believer in AI, too, after reading Supercrunchers by Ian Ayres. I would like to see the use of a nonhuman source selection authority in my lifetime. 

Did the book just talk about AI's ability to compute/make decisions or did it also include any worthwhile discussions of AI's ability to learn?  I'm more familiar with the former than the latter so if you give it a solid recommendation I'm going to put it on my reading list.

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There were worthwhile discussions of the ability to learn. Fascinating discussion of the use of neural networks to solve different problems. However, the book is 10 years old so I suspect the technology is more advanced today. I still recommend it. 

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7 hours ago, Don Mansfield said:

I would like to see the use of a nonhuman source selection authority in my lifetime. 

Don,

You may want to reach out to the folks at DLA. DLA is reportedly awarding 3K orders per day through automation that includes an automatic evaluation system.

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DLAD 13.003-90 Policy.

(e) It is the policy of DLA that each contracting office shall use the automated solicitation, evaluation, and award processes to the fullest extent possible. Any requirements that are not satisfied as delivery orders against long-term contracting arrangements are candidates for automated procurement.

 

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Guest Vern Edwards
19 hours ago, Don Mansfield said:

I've become a believer in AI, too, after reading Supercrunchers by Ian Ayres. I would like to see the use of a nonhuman source selection authority in my lifetime. 

Don, you're reading too much of that kind of crap. Life is too short. There are wonderful new translations of The Three Musketeers and The Odyssey. Would you like me to send you a copy of one of them? Or maybe you just want a little plastic wind-up Robby the Robot toy for your desk at DAU. Or maybe a DVD of "Colossus: The Forbin Project."

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11 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

Don,

You may want to reach out to the folks at DLA. DLA is reportedly awarding 3K orders per day through automation that includes an automatic evaluation system.

 

That is really cool. Wonder why there isn't more buzz about this (positive or negative). Any word yet on results or trends?

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3 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Don, you're reading too much of that kind of crap. Life is too short. There are wonderful new translations of The Three Musketeers and The Odyssey. Would you like me to send you a copy of one of them? Or maybe you just want a little plastic wind-up Robby the Robot toy for your desk at DAU. Or maybe a DVD of "Colossus: The Forbin Project."

I'm going through a mid-life crisis, ok? Some guys go out and buy sports cars to feel young, I read books about math. I used to want to be an actuary. That is my road not taken.

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Guest Vern Edwards

Math! That's a high class midlife crisis. I wanted to be in the Foreign Legion. (It's a long family history story.) Let myself be talked out of it. Ended up in contracting.

What a fail. :(

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On ‎4‎/‎20‎/‎2018 at 11:13 AM, Jamaal Valentine said:

Don,

You may want to reach out to the folks at DLA. DLA is reportedly awarding 3K orders per day through automation that includes an automatic evaluation system.

DLAD 13.003-90 Policy.

(e) It is the policy of DLA that each contracting office shall use the automated solicitation, evaluation, and award processes to the fullest extent possible. Any requirements that are not satisfied as delivery orders against long-term contracting arrangements are candidates for automated procurement.

 

Since DLA is on the cutting edge, I wonder if they have a plan...if things go badly, just how does an AI get sentenced to Leavenworrth?

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On 4/19/2018 at 10:13 PM, Jamaal Valentine said:

Don,

You may want to reach out to the folks at DLA. DLA is reportedly awarding 3K orders per day through automation that includes an automatic evaluation system.

 

As one who helped DLA set up the contracting system component of the ERP which formed the  basis of this automation, I can tell you that DLA is fairly unique in its high volume/low dollar/low complexity business model. In fact, much like the Obamacare website, things didn't go well upon go-live because PD2 choked on the volume of orders and line items.

DLA also has a system of Prime Vendors who hold long term ordering vehicles that facilitate this automated model, and the agency is organized around firmly segregated and predictable lines of business (e.g., land, maritime, air).

It's also worth noting that DLA built a manual-assist process from the get-go, which kicked out a significant # of nominally simple procurements which were too complex for automated processing (which were identified by a separate PIID schema).  So even the automated process for a commodity-focused procurement system was built with the expectation that everything couldn't be automated

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  • 4 weeks later...

One can rebuff artificial intelligence all he wants.  The fact is that technology continues to evolve.  The United States was primarily agricultural through the Civil War, with approximately three-quarters of the population living in rural areas.  The ensuing transition toward industrialization and urban migration inevitability led to specialization within the larger workforce.  Dare we forget that American manufacturing turned the tide in World War, accelerating the defeat of the Axis powers and lending to the rebuilding of swaths of Europe and the Far East.  We maintained our status as the world’s industrial powerhouse until about the late 70s or early 80s when manufacturing jobs began to move overseas.  Today, we identify as a service economy.  The most purchased commercial items in dollars are exempted from domestic manufacturing requirements by the Buy American Act.  Our most profitable supplies are those of the intellectual property type.  The creation of software applications and like products is wholly reliant on the most exclusive forms of specialized knowledge and creative risk-taking.  Even our service industry has been turned on its head.  Today, the world’s largest provider of lodging owns not a single hotel.  The largest passenger transportation service owns no vehicles.  The majority of freight companies are brokers, subcontracting to trucking companies of varying sizes.  The cost of freight in many regions of the county has nearly doubled, even though pay to drivers is at a historic high.  With Boomers retiring, the need for professional drivers is greater than ever.  But Millennials and Generation Z are not seeing the allure of a job relegating them to 11-hours a day of confinement.  They know too that they would be lucky to see the maturation of another generation before the entire industry transitions to driverless vehicles.  The same should be a concern for the 160,000 Uber drivers in the US.

You can like it or hate it, AI is indifferent.  AI may be in its budding infancy, but in time, it will surely grow to colossal proportions.  We use predictive modeling and algorithmic-based applications on a limited scale in my office and I for one could not be happier.  We are awarding a $147M supply contract containing over 4700 line items.  Each represents a truckload delivery to an individual recipient.  The final destinations span all 50 states, certain territories and Indian reservations.  Offerors propose prices per state (or territory) for each item on the schedule of supplies.  Offerors may indicate constraints in their proposals, i.e., limitations to particular locations and maximums for particular items.  Apply these “constraints” to 4700 some odd items and it becomes the kind of price evaluation that my limited and impatient mind would rather not perform.  The algorithmic software we use allows us to enter rules up front, including set-asides, then sorts the data per our instruction.  The result is the creation of a scenario, complete with bar and pie graphs and several analytical representations of the data.  Why have a protest hinge on the precision of your own calculus when you can rely on your handy TI-84 Plus?

I agree that many specialists are consigned to repetitive tasks and vapid clerical work.  The larger injustice lies in circumstances in which a specialist lacks capability or is unwilling to do more, but just the same benefits from the gainful rewards in pay and other incentives.  Perhaps even more unfortunate is the skillful and ambitious CS who struggles to remain challenged and stimulated.  Every organizational shift ought to contain the seeds of an equivalent or greater benefit.  I would like to say that the smart ones will adapt, but intelligence is only part of it.  There too has to be a willingness and fit determination.

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