AI News, ECS artificial intelligence

Will Trump's New Artificial Intelligence Initiative Make The U.S. The World Leader In AI?

The tech world got a surprise on Monday when a senior administration official for the Trump administration announced during a telephone briefing that the President would be signing an executive order that would create an American AI Initiative designed to dedicate resources and funnel investments into research on artificial intelligence (AI).

The order has five “pillars,” according to the unnamed official: 1) Research and development (which will ask agencies to increase funding for and specifically report on AI research) 2) Infrastructure (which will encourage information sharing, though potentially run up against issues of privacy) 3) Governance (which will have to be drafted by government agencies and, we can only hope, other civic and academic groups, but at least aims to ensure the safe and ethical use of AI) 4) Workforce (which will support job training and continuing education in computer science) 5) International engagement (which will require collaborating on projects with other countries, without giving them the technological edge the U.S. seeks) Other than this general framework, we have very little else in terms of what will happen, though the government plans to release more information over the next 6 months.

The American AI Initiative announcement comes almost exactly a year after The New York Times published a story on China’s plan to become a world leader in AI by the year 2030, which technologists took as “a direct challenge to America’s lead in arguably the most important tech research to come along in decades.” China’s 28-page (in translation) document laid out an aggressive plan to spark innovation and pump billions into new breakthroughs, though it was similar in many ways to a report the Obama administration had released about the future of AI back in 2016.

Virginia Dignum, Professor of Social and Ethical Artificial Intelligence in Umeå University’s Department of Computer Science, told me she thought “the U.S. government has been too quiet about AI and its societal impact,” since the attempts of the Obama administration and the research is too important to ignore knowing that it “will affect all people and all industries” and “world leaders need to take their role and responsibility seriously.” She continued: It is also good to see that the U.S.'s view seems to approach Europe's in terms of analysing the need and scope of regulation, the availability of open (government) data, and the call for wide participation.

Dignum also cautioned against “this warlike narrative about an 'AI race,’” noting that while “massive investments are crucial,” “there is not ONE finish line and also there are many routes to progress in AI.” Instead of seeing world leaders create a narrative of “more and bigger data and more and bigger computational power” as “the only way to realise the potential of AI,” she hopes to see investments in “environmentally sustainable, and smarter, approaches to AI.” Another important consideration – the most important, some might argue – is how we can be sure that ethical standards and policy guidelines keep pace with this planned growth.

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