A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) component agency official pushed back this week against what he called the recent wave of negative attention being paid to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, arguing instead that responsible use of the technology is proving to be a boon for his agency.

Damian Kostiuk, Deputy Chief Data Officer at DHS’ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) component, offered those views at a May 9 NextGov event focused on AI and automation.

He emphasized – sometimes with tongue in cheek – that AI and robotic processing automation technologies are proving their value at USCIS, and are working to empower agency employees, rather than that to take power away from them.

“When I signed up to speak at this event … ChatGPT just seemed like this cute little baby … it was just this nascent little thing over there in the corner,” Kostiuk said.  Since then, he said, the headline news  around tech has shifted to the White House saying “we’re coming up with workgroups everywhere, and we’re going to have new policy, and Congress is making commentary, and AI is on the verge of becoming a sentient … boogeyman monster.”

On the ground at USCIS, the opposite is proving to be true, he maintained.

“What honestly I see personally in our offices, and with my colleagues, is very different,” Kostiuk said.

“Everything sounds dark, but in my organization’s experience we’ve witnessed smiling happiness from staff that they aren’t doing boring work anymore in some cases where we deployed” AI tech, and “they’re able to get back to doing the real work.”

“Not dark sadness, this is happiness,” he continued. “Honestly, I’ve seen them on the camera and in person just smiling and beaming that they don’t have to do this annoying stuff anymore.”

“And I’ve also seen resource and fiscal responsibility because they’ve been able to get the work done efficiently,” Kostiuk said. “ You don’t have infinite dollars and infinite human resources to solve certain problems,” he said, while calling AI tech “a true aid and help.”

“I challenge everyone, please … to help ground those narratives in your own offices,” he said. “Because I’m thinking that a lot of people in your own offices have been still espousing those kind of common Terminator type of narratives for a long time without necessarily rethinking what are they actually seeing on the ground floor themselves, versus what they’re hearing in the imagined.”

“If there are any skeptics, please trust that these technologies like AI and RPA are very much complementary to human endeavor … I’ve found that they actually help empower people, not remove power,” he said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.