President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Monday instructing the U.S. government to increase its emphasis on artificial intelligence research (AI), which the president identified as a major driver of economic growth and a vital component of national security strategy.
The initiative is to be coordinated by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which has a select committee on artificial intelligence. Trump directed all agencies to prioritize research and development funding for AI and prepare implementation strategies to take full advantage of the power of AI technology.
“Continued American leadership in AI is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States and to shaping the global evolution of AI in a manner consistent with our Nation’s values, policies, and priorities,” the executive order declared.
Trump instructed the federal government to work with industry and academia to promote AI research, developing standards and safety protocols while also removing barriers to innovation.
“The United States must foster public trust and confidence in AI technologies and protect civil liberties, privacy, and American values in their application in order to fully realize the potential of AI technologies for the American people,” the executive order stated.
Trump envisioned AI technology affecting nearly every federal department and agency, creating new opportunities for efficiency while simultaneously raising concerns about privacy rights.
The order repeatedly stressed the importance of protecting American AI research from technology theft as well as the importance of artificial intelligence technology to our national security. Cybersecurity will be especially important because Trump’s executive order instructs the government to share valuable data with private firms and academic institutions working on artificial intelligence technology.
The White House emphasized the importance of not just safeguarding American AI research, but ensuring artificial intelligence development around the globe is conducted “in a manner consistent with our nation’s values, policies, and priorities.”
It does not take much imagination to envision the horrors that could be unleashed upon the human race by artificial intelligence if the values of authoritarian states like China or Russia guide its development.
China openly plans to use AI tech to spread its ideology around the world, and not only has it committed enormous resources (and a trove of stolen technology) to AI development, but it has no qualms about using its citizens as guinea pigs for research projects. This relaxed attitude about privacy rights and human dignity is allowing China to swiftly accumulate a mountain of data concerning human interaction with AI systems.
“AI has really become a transformative technology that’s changing industries, markets, and society. There are a number of actions that are needed to help us harness AI for the good of the American people,” said AI expert Lynne Parker of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who also contributed AI work to the previous administration. According to Wired, Parker is currently working on a detailed national AI research strategy.
Wired noted that private-sector tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have been asking for federal standards on privacy and safety for AI technologies, such as facial recognition software.
President Trump’s initiative is welcome news to AI experts, although MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson and Kate Crawford of New York University’s AI Now Institute told U.S. News and World Report they would like to see more specifics about funding and spending for federal AI projects.
“The good news is America’s research infrastructure in artificial intelligence is leading the world, but other countries are making much more aggressive investments and rapidly closing the gap, especially China,” Brynjolfsson warned.
“China in many ways has very different values than we have in the West about things like surveillance, privacy, democracy, property rights. If we want Western values to thrive, we need to play a role in maintaining and even extending the technological strength we’ve long had,” he added.
U.S. News pointed out that lawyers and economists must become part of the AI discussion to model how the emerging technology will affect markets, most definitely including the labor market, and what legal complications will arise. Technologists may groan at the thought of inviting squadrons of lawyers into the delivery room as America gives birth to the next generation of artificial intelligence, but we unquestionably live in a hyper-litigious society, so huge technological leaps will naturally be accompanied by lawsuits.
Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) Senior Vice President Mark MacCarthy called Trump’s order “a good step toward a national strategy for AI.”
“We especially praise the White House’s emphasis on open data, which requires maintaining incentives for private sector developed data in government data sets. SIIA strongly supports the focus on oversight of AI as used in context rather than generic regulations,” he said.