The director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) said today that the agency is facing challenges when it comes to overload in data – a situation that he described as only the “tip of the iceberg” – and suggested that’s where artificial intelligence needs to come into play as a solution.

“We’re having an exponential rise in sensors,” Frank Whitworth said at Esri’s Feb. 8 Federal GIS Conference in Washington, D.C. “But we’re not going to have an exponential rise in trained eyes and people” to generate value from the resulting increase in data volume, he said.

“[We have to] have some sort of a human-machine team,” the NGA director said, noting the possibility of leveraging computer vision, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. “We’re going to have to allow our limited resources and people … to have a way to match this meteoric rise in sensors and data.”

While Whitworth encouraged the use of emerging technologies to combat the lack of human capital to keep up with data growth, he also emphasized that his team cannot risk forgetting the basics.

“Our strategic objective number one at NGA – which is very mission oriented – speaks to this. It reminds our people that we need to strengthen our abilities when it comes to foundational intelligence,” he said.

“The combination of people with technology is going to be imperative,” Whitworth said.

To ensure that the agency has the right human capital and talent for years to come, NGA has broken ground on a new $1.75 billion campus in an “underrepresented and disadvantaged” community in St. Louis, Whitworth said.

The new site in the North Side community will replace NGA’s current facility – which dates back to the 1840s – and is scheduled to be open and fully operational by 2025.

Whitworth’s hope for placing the facility in the heart of the community keys on building a symbiotic relationship by bringing economic prosperity to the people, with the people offering talent to NGA.

The director said the new campus has partnered with eight local universities to build a talent pipeline from the community to the agency.

“We already have a few analysts from North Side,” he said. “I look forward to the day we have a lot of analysts from North Side.”

The NGA leader ended his keynote calling on the audience to help the agency “as a nation to get through what is a deluge control issue, so we don’t sacrifice thoroughness, but we don’t sacrifice speed either.”

“I really like the direction we’re going. We have serious human capital, and we also have the technological edge as a country so [we have to] find a way to meld the two,” Whitworth said.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.