Kristin St. Peter of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) engaged an audience of nearly 100 people in a question-and-answer session Sept. 12 during USGIF’s GEOINTeraction Tuesday event, which was hosted by CA Technologies at the CIT building in Herndon, Va.
St. Peter announced NGA’s reorganization, mentioned her new title—deputy associate director of capabilities—and focused much of the discussion on public-private partnerships and NGA’s goal to use data as currency.
“It takes 100,000 images to be able to train an algorithm to spot a plane, train, or automobile with a 90 percent level of accuracy,” St. Peter said. “We have those data sets and want to be able to use them to partner with people who normally don’t partner with government.”
Gathering training data can often be more difficult for startup artificial intelligence (AI) companies than luring venture capital investors, she noted, and said that by bringing training data to the table NGA hopes to drive forward its own missions as well as the industrial base. St. Peter also emphasized these nontraditional partnerships are intended to complement but not replace CRADAs and other more traditional information sharing agreements.
The audience asked for examples in which data brokerage models have been successful and how such a partnership would work logistically. St. Peter explained that when exchanging training data for algorithms and other AI tools, NGA would retain intellectual property rights in terms of a partners’ ability to sell the data.
“We would place caveats on who you sold it to. We don’t want to give [our adversaries] the training data needed to outpace us in AI,” she said. “We need to be selective in how we pick our partners and how they use the IP. We would place a few restrictions on it but wouldn’t diminish the IP to the point where it’s not worth your while.”
In doing so, the agency hopes to pave the way for the federal government to draw better conclusions from its data troves.
“Everybody in government is having the exact same problem. We have too much information,” she said. “We don’t now how to make sense of it. If we can crack this code at NGA we think this is scalable to rest of the IC and to the rest of the government … But the cultural change—getting people to embrace this is not easy.”
To help facilitate cultural change, NGA is in the process of a reorganization designed to enhance its business processes, according to St. Peter.
“We have gone to a model where titles look more like how the CIA is structured and how they assign and organize their work,” she said.
Under the reorganization, NGA’s associate directorates are: Operations, led by Maj. Gen Urrutia-Varhall; Capabilities, led by Dr. Anthony Vinci and his deputy, St. Peter; Support, led by Ellen Ardrey; and Enterprise, led by Dustin Gard-Weiss.
NGA’s former chief of staff, Ed Mornston, now has the title of executive director. The executive director has more specific responsibilities to assist the agency’s director and deputy director in integrating agency activities and operations, where the chief of staff position was responsible for support office functions.
In addition to seeking nontraditional partners and reorganizing, St. Peter said the agency is adopting a coding training program at all levels of the organization as well as looking to hire more employees, including software engineers and data visualization experts.
“We’re bringing in new skill sets and have a hiring plan for next two years to do that,” she said “Our training plan goes out to five years.”
St. Peter, who spent a total of seven years deployed to the Middle East, concluded that these cultural shifts are all intended to bolster national security. She added that many emerging technologies such as AI are applicable and necessary across industry, business, environmental organizations, and the federal government.
“We are about to enter a new world. Geospatial information is everywhere. Its democratization, GEOINT on the rise—all these sayings are true.”