According to several outlets briefed over the weekend on the White House’s plans, President Trump will today sign an executive order establishing a program — the American AI Initiative — that’ll task federal agencies with devoting more resources to artificial intelligence (AI) research, training, and promotion. It comes after President Trump promised “investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future” during his State of the Union speech last week, and after companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google called for guidelines governing the use and development of AI technologies such as facial recognition.
“AI is something that touches every aspect of people’s lives,” a White House official told Reuters. “What this initiative attempts to do is to bring all those together under one umbrella and show the promise of this technology for the American people.”
There isn’t any funding attached to the executive order, which follows the Trump Administration’s AI summit on the role of AI in May 2018. Rather, it merely directs federal agencies to increase access to government data, hardware infrastructure, and models and calls for better reporting and tracking of spending on AI-related research in areas like health care and transportation.
The initiative is divided into five key pillars:
- Research and development: Federal funding agencies will be asked to “prioritize AI” investments. Some have been proactive in this regard — the Defense Department set aside $75 million of its annual budget for a new fund devoted to developing AI technologies, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says it has committed $2 billion to AI research.
- AI infrastructure: Federal data, computing resources, and models will be made available to AI researchers, which might result in partnerships like that between the Veterans Administration and Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
- AI governance: The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Transportation, the Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies will be asked to draft standards that guide the development of “reliable, robust, trustworthy, secure, portable, and interoperable AI systems,” like driverless cars and software that can diagnose disease.
- Workforce: Government agencies will be asked to create fellowships and apprenticeships that help workers adjust to jobs changed by AI and to train future AI researchers and experts.
- International engagement: The administration will collaborate with countries on AI development, but only in a way that’s “consistent” with American “values and interests.”
The White House is drafting a memo that’ll lay out details of the program’s implementation, due within six months. And Lynne Parker, who leads work on AI in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is expected to release a complementary national AI research strategy within weeks.
One element not addressed in the White House’s plan is immigration.
The Trump administration in February 2018 heightened vetting of H1-B visas, which now require “detailed documentation” for workers employed at worksites to prove that they’re filling the roles for which they were hired. It’s purportedly designed to cut down on “benching,” a practice in which employers hire entry-level engineers and shuffle them to other divisions, but in practice it has led to increased restrictions and rejections of visas and to preferential treatment for holders of advanced degrees from U.S. institutions.
The administration also delayed implementation of the international entrepreneur rule, or startup visa, which would have allowed foreign entrepreneurs to stay in the U.S. to start businesses. Partly as a result of that and other policy decisions, the number of overseas graduate students in the U.S. fell 5.5 percent in 2017 (from 2016), according to the National Science Foundation.
The U.S. joins 18 other countries that have launched national AI strategies, including Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, and the U.K.
Canada’s Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which was detailed in its 2017 federal budget, is a five-year $94 million (CAD $125 million) plan to invest in AI research and talent. The European Union, for its part, has committed to increasing investment in AI from $565 million (€500 million) in 2017 to $1.69 billion (€1.5 billion) by the end of 2020, and crafted a set of AI ethics guidelines to address issues such as fairness, safety, and transparency. In March 2018, at the AI for Humanity Summit in Paris, France took the wraps off a $1.69 billion (€1.5 billion) initiative to transform the country into a “global leader” in AI research and training. And South Korea recently unveiled a multiyear, $1.95 billion (KRW 2.2 trillion) investment to strengthen its R&D in AI, with the goal of establishing six AI-focused graduate schools by 2022 and training 5,000 AI specialists.
China’s AI plan is perhaps the most ambitious: In two policy documents, “A Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” and “Three-Year Action Plan to Promote the Development of New-Generation Artificial Intelligence Industry,” the Chinese government laid out a roadmap to cultivate an AI industry worth roughly $147 billion by 2030. It’s already seen the creation of a $2.1 billion technology park for AI research in Beijing.
Europe currently leads the world in scholarly output related to AI, according to a report by Elsevier, but China is expected to overtake the EU within the next four years, if current trends continue. India is currently third behind the U.S. and China, while Germany and Japan rank fifth and sixth worldwide in AI research paper output.
In an op-ed published today in the Financial Times, MIT President L. Rafael Reif argued for sustained federal investment and a “broad strategic effort across society” in dealing with AI. “Technology belongs to all of us,” he said. “We must all be alert to the risks posed by AI, but this is no time to be afraid. Those nations … which act now to help shape the future of AI will help shape the future for us all.”
Updated 8:42 Pacific: As expected, President Trump signed an executive order today establishing the American AI Initiative.