BI: Trump’s AI executive order gets a “show me the money”

To address concerns of China’s scientific and commercial advance of artificial intelligence and American competitiveness, US president Donald Trump yesterday announced a new executive order for a national strategy called the “American AI Initiative,” writes Darrell West, VP and director of Governance Studies in the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

Michael Kratios, the deputy assistant to the president for technology policy at the White House, has explained that America needs a national AI strategy. In a Wired op-ed, he argues “under the American AI Initiative, federal agencies will increase access to their resources to drive AI research by identifying high-priority federal data and models, improving public access to and the quality of federal AI data, and allocating high-performance and cloud computing resources to AI-related applications and R&D.”

The initiative outlines several welcome steps. It seeks to increase access to federal data, provide financial support for R&D, enhance digital infrastructures, and improve workforce development. Those are all noble goals where the United States needs to do better. For example, having better access to government data would strengthen the training of AI algorithms and help software overcome the inherent biases of incomplete or misleading information.

And having faster broadband, more ubiquitous mobile networks, and faster computers is vital for AI deployment. New advances in autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, streaming videos, and national security require improvements in computing capacity. It will be impossible to take advantage of the full capabilities of AI without this type of progress.

A related competition also is taking place in regard to 5G networks. As noted recently by Brookings Fellow Nicol Turner-Lee, this is the high-speed mobile communications technology that will enable enhanced communications and advanced technology solutions. China has invested billions there and this is just one more manifestation of the technology competition that the US needs to take seriously.

What is unclear in the president’s new initiative, however, is how much AI funding is being provided and how it is being implemented. Sometimes, new announcements such as the one formed to combat the opioid crisis have been introduced with great fanfare, but shown little impact. Without additional funding for research, workforce development, and infrastructure, the new initiative likely will fall flat.

On the implementation front, there also are question marks regarding the executive order. It is one thing to call for inter-agency cooperation and coordination, and another to develop effective mechanisms that do that. Agencies need to coordinate, but they have incentives to pursue their own vision, not that of the White House or Office of Management and Budget.

Making progress on vision, funding, and infrastructure is important for national competitiveness and national security. Until we see the details for the comprehensive implementation of the national AI initiative, it will be hard to assess the long-term impact and effectiveness of the president’s AI executive order and whether it can redress the lengthening gap between the U.S. and China on AI, 5G, and other emerging technologies.

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