The White House’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 includes sizable increases in federal funding for AI and quantum computing projects. All told, the overall increase in federal R&D funding is 6% compared to fiscal year 2020, reaching $142.2 billion.

Although much of the funding is aimed at R&D and infrastructure investments like $25 million to begin research for a quantum internet, the tenor of the briefing included defense tones. In espousing the need to invest in quantum information science (QIS), an official on the call said the U.S. needs to stay ahead of China and Europe, which are investing in their own quantum computing projects.

U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios was clear about American values as they pertain to AI. “I think with regards to some of our adversaries and others around the world [that] utilize this technology, it’s imperative that the U.S. continues to lead in technologies like AI,” he said. “We see others around the world using artificial intelligence to track their people, to imprison ethic minorities, to monitor political dissidents, and this is something that does not align with American values and makes our leadership position even more of an imperative.”

There was also talk of war-fighting and defense spending, as well as mentions of Project Maven, a controversial collaboration between the U.S. military and private companies. In the document outlining the budget proposal, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is putting $459 million into AI R&D, up from $50 million in 2020’s budget. At the same time, the Department of Defense’s Joint AI Center is seeing a proposed $48 million increase, to $290 million up from $242 million in fiscal year 2020.

Reporters in the briefing raised questions about what these investments would mean for cybersecurity and other scientific research, but the White House officials on the call demurred, only answering narrow questions about the AI and quantum computing aspects of the budget proposal.

Under the proposal, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would get a 70% increase from 2020 to reach $850 million. Other proposed AI investments include:

  • Department of Energy’s Office of Science will invest $125 million in AI research, a $54 million increase over fiscal year 2020
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide $100 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grants program to enhance application of advanced technology, including AI, in agricultural systems
  • The National Institutes of Health will invest $50 million for new research on chronic diseases using AI and related approaches

The proposed budget includes a great deal more funding for QIS. There’s a 50% increase over 2020, with an aim to double current funding by 2022. Although the overall new investment in QIS would be in the low hundreds of millions, arguably the marquee line item is $25 million “to support early stage research for a quantum internet.”

The Department of Energy held a workshop last week in New York City with the National Science Foundations, national laboratories, the U.S. Commerce Department, and university and industry partners to discuss how to get started.

“That work will produce our blueprint for the scaffolding of an entangled quantum internet that connects our labs identifying short, medium, and long term goals, as well as the challenges that will need to be faced and the technologies that we need to be developed along the way to build the quantum internet stack,” Kratsios said.

Such a network would help fulfill the vision of the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) National Quantum Coordination Office that penned the Strategic Vision for America’s Quantum Networks.

Other investments in quantum technologies include:

  • National Science Foundation investment in QIS research will double to $210 million, an additional $105 million over FY 2020
  • The Department of Energy Office of Science spending on QIS research (at national labs, as well as academia and industry) will increase to $237 million, a $70 million increase from fiscal year 2020

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