Senators Call for Artificial Intelligence Commission to Compete with China

The Associated Press
AP Photo/John Locher

Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced legislation on Wednesday to create a National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.

The stated purpose of the commission is to maintain an American advantage in AI against foreign countries and non-state actors. Both senators had China on their minds when they announced their bipartisan effort.

“Through the establishment of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence we will better understand how to best utilize AI, from the front-lines to the factory lines,” said Ernst. “The Commission will also provide necessary insight into how near-peer competitors around the globe, like Russia and China, are also advancing in the AI field and what we must do to remain competitive in the realms of national and economic security.”

“The commission proposed in this bill will provide guidance on how we cultivate AI to help ensure we stay ahead of countries like China in this space, while also building guardrails to make certain the U.S. government responsibly uses AI,” said Cortez Mastro.

The bill calls for a commission “comprised of 15 members appointed by Congress and executive branch leaders from the fields of defense, commerce, science, and intelligence,” whose mission would include producing an annual report on U.S. competitiveness in AI applications for science, business, and military purposes. Recruiting the top global talent for artificial intelligence research is a top agenda item.

A House bill to establish an AI commission with a national security focus was introduced in March by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). The structure and purpose of Stefanik’s proposed commission are nearly identical to those of the commission outlined by Senators Ernst and Cortez Mastro.

“AI has already produced many things in use today, including web search, object recognition in photos or videos, prediction models, self-driving cars and automated robotics,” Stefanik observed.

“It is critical to our national security but also to the development of our broader economy that the United States becomes the global leader in further developing this cutting-edge technology,” she urged.

The White House announced it will convene a meeting on the future of artificial intelligence on Thursday, with representatives from Facebook,, Oracle, Intel, Microsoft, and Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. in attendance. Non-tech companies who are major customers for AI technology will also participate, including financial institutions, manufacturers, and retail giants like Walmart.

“The stakeholder input collected at the event will inform federal government efforts to maintain U.S. leadership in AI development and deployment,” the White House said.

“AI has great potential to transform and improve our daily lives,” said Melika Carroll of the Internet Association. “We applaud the Trump administration for furthering this important conversation and ensuring the U.S. is prepared to take advantage of all AI has to offer across every sector of society and the economy.”

The European Commission in late April recommended an investment of over $20 billion in artificial intelligence research, citing concerns that China is pulling ahead of the U.S. and Europe. The commission was also worried about U.S. firms hiring away top researchers from Europe – the very same practice the proposed U.S. congressional commissions would increase.

The EU is also grappling with the question of whether AI systems should be given human rights and legal status as persons, about which commissioner Andrus Ansip quipped, “I don’t think my vacuum cleaner has to get human rights.” The commission nevertheless resolved to appoint a committee to prepare ethical guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence.

The military applications of artificial intelligence are a major concern at the Pentagon and NATO headquarters, especially the looming prospect of “hyper war,” a full-spectrum digital and physical conflict in which AI manages the battlefield at such incredible speeds that the conflict could spiral out of human control. This is not an especially futuristic or far-fetched concept; it is already quite easy to imagine two advanced combatants with drone-enhanced human armies engaging in a physical battle with extensive electronic warfare that develops too rapidly for human commanders to follow.

Artificial intelligence, broadly defined as computer systems that can work autonomously at high speed without much human oversight, is a key that will unlock incredible levels of productivity and innovation. The winner of the AI race will soon possess an industrial engine that produces and grows on a far higher level than competitors, with profound ramifications for both fair international competition and trade warfare.

One other matter of great concern, alluded to by the European Commission’s work on AI and human rights, is the social disruption that will be caused by artificial intelligence technology. It will have tremendous implications for ideological conflict as well as military and economic conflict.

The Chinese believe they will take an insurmountable lead in AI research because they have more focused research policies, fewer regulatory barriers to development, and fewer legal and social constraints against doing whatever it takes to win, including the use of their own population as guinea pigs in AI experiments.

China is very eager to use AI technology to control its population, suppress dissent, and secure the political power of the Communist Party. The possibilities for using AI to manipulate political discourse in other countries are also enormous.

As Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in January, “AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on. It’s more profound than, I don’t know, electricity or fire.” Every level of the U.S. government had better work with our tech pioneers to make certain the fire of artificial intelligence is harnessed by the free world first.


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