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This week, President Trump took shots at Google for what he calls unfair search results for his name and unfair treatment of conservatives by Silicon Valley liberals. In this same vein, he talked about how some people see “an antitrust situation” with Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
Before Trump’s latest Twitter tirade began, on Sunday the New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote a memo to President Trump earlier this year asking him to create a national strategy for AI akin to the kind China has created. China’s strategy was introduced last year and aims to make China the world leader in AI by 2030, in part through “military-civil fusion” with companies like Baidu and Tencent.
Mattis reportedly said in the memo the United States isn’t keeping pace with China and recommended a presidential commission be created. While quoting an article by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Mattis wrote that the commission should be established in order to inspire “a whole country effort that will ensure the U.S. is a leader not just in matters of defense but in the broader ‘transformation of the human condition.'” The memo was apparently sent weeks after the Trump administration formed an AI advisory council.
Do not consider the Mattis memo and Trump’s argument with Google in isolation.
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The president more than likely doesn’t believe he’s being discriminated against or care about antitrust regulation and is just teeing off on big tech companies to win points with his far-right base. But even if he does actually believe Google treated him unfairly, it may not be in the best interest of the United States to argue with a company closely associated with the growth of AI and tools like TensorFlow.
Right now, he should probably be listening to his defense secretary and thinking about what a national AI strategy should look like for the United States, and exploring the topic with companies like Google.
Recent months have been marked by friction between tech workers and the federal government.
Thousands of Google employees spoke up in opposition to working with the Department of Defense on Project Maven, opposition that led Google to discontinue its contract with the DOD and CEO Sundar Pichai to declare Google will not participate in the creation of autonomous weaponry.
Many Microsoft employees also shared their unwillingness to support ICE due to President Trump’s program to separate families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Employees at some tech companies have quit in protest in response to military contracts, but not everyone is against the idea. Computer vision startup Clarifai also participated in Maven, and CEO Matt Zeiler said Clarifai chose to work with the government in the interest of national security.
More work between tech companies and defense or intelligence officials is likely on the way. The Joint AI Center (JAIC) established by the Department of Defense in June is scheduled to open next month, and director Brendan McCord apparently plans to seek help from academia and industry.
In calling for a “whole country effort,” Mattis’ memo appears to allude to more partnerships with private companies, but even if that doesn’t happen, stakeholders making influential tools for AI like the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, PyTorch, or TensorFlow should probably be consulted when considering a national AI strategy.
Algorithmic bias and the need to regulate tech giants are serious issues worth consideration, but right now the president should be having conversations with companies like Google about how they can cooperate with the JAIC or put in their two cents on a national AI strategy, not sending tweets about how Google didn’t promote his inauguration.
If you believe, as Vladimir Putin does, that the nation that leads in AI will control the world, apparently there’s a lot at stake, and national security is a president’s first responsibility.
For AI coverage, send news tips to Kyle Wiggers and Khari Johnson — and be sure to bookmark our AI Channel.
Thanks for reading,
AI Staff Writer
P.S. Please enjoy this video titled “Everybody Dance Now.” Made by UC Berkeley AI researchers on how to manipulate videos to make people dance, the video uploaded by Caroline Chan a little over a week ago had been viewed more than 400,000 times at the time this story was published.
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