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Artificial intelligence

Trump has a plan to keep America first in artificial intelligence

The president will launch the “American AI Initiative” with an executive order.
February 10, 2019
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Artificial intelligence may have been invented in the United States, but other nations, including China, Canada, and France, have made bigger moves to back and benefit from the technology in recent years.

President Donald Trump will seek to change that Monday by signing an executive order that launches the US government’s own AI play.

The key focuses of the “American AI Initiative” have been released ahead of time by the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The initiative is designed to boost America’s AI industry by reallocating funding, creating new resources, and devising ways for the country to shape the technology even as it becomes increasingly global.

However, while the goals are lofty, the details are vague. And it will not include a big lump sum of funding for AI research.

The plan aims to achieve five key things:

Redirect funding: The order will direct federal funding agencies to prioritize investments in artificial intelligence. 

Create resources: It will seek to make federal data, computer models, and computing resources available to AI researchers.

Establish standards: It will direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create standards that foster the development of “reliable, robust, trustworthy, secure, portable, and interoperable AI systems.”

Retrain workers: It will ask agencies to prioritize preparing workers for the changes brought about by AI through apprenticeships, skills programs, and fellowships.

Engage internationally: It will call for a strategy for international collaboration that ensures AI is developed in a way consistent with American “values and interests.”

Each step could help boost American AI research and make the US more competitive—depending on how it is executed.

Trump made a brief reference to “industries of the future” in last week’s state of the union address, and administration officials have indicated that the president is preparing a series of executive orders designed to boost US competitiveness in key technology areas including AI, 5G, and quantum computing.

It is certainly vital for the White House to have a coherent policy on artificial intelligence if it wants to maintain American military power, economic strength, and influence abroad. And the Trump administration has come under criticism for taking a hands-off approach to AI in contrast to other governments. America’s main economic and strategic rival, China, announced a sweeping plan for funding and developing AI in 2017.

Many within the government are apparently concerned about the US losing its edge. Last year, the then US defense secretary, Jim Mattis, sent a memo to the White House asking the president to devise a national strategy on AI. 

Jason Furman, a professor at Harvard who served as chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers and helped craft that administration’s influential 2016 report on artificial intelligence, says the new AI plan is encouraging, but only a first step.

“The administration’s American AI Initiative includes all of the right elements; the critical test will be to see if they follow through in a vigorous manner,” Furman says. “The plan is aspirational with no details and is not self-executing.”

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