About a commotion For four years, the Trump administration has repeatedly emphasized the importance of artificial intelligence for American competitiveness. Now President Trump has to decide whether to veto the government’s biggest funding and strategy push to date for AI.
The National Defense Authorization Act would allocate $ 6.4 billion in federal funding over five years to research into AI and its applications and encourage Washington to develop a national strategy for the technology.
The bill, approved by both houses of Congress, would add $ 4.8 billion to federal AI spending to the National Science Foundation, $ 1.2 billion to the Energy Department, and $ 400 million to raise the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Martijn Rasser, Senior Fellow of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for New American Security, a strategy think tank in Washington, DC, says the funding is significant.
The bill would also help coordinate the government’s AI strategy, Rasser says, by creating an AI office within the White House’s science and technology policy bureau. According to Rasser, this could help guide the investment and use of AI, ensure it is used ethically, and align it with priorities for the future of the American workforce.
The Defense Act would also set up a task force to study the resources needed for AI researchers. This should lay the foundation for a national cloud computing platform for AI research. “This will really help researchers in smaller companies and universities who don’t have the massive resources that the big tech companies have,” says Rasser.
The bill can also help the DOD use AI more effectively by giving the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, which is part of the Department of Defense, new powers and submitting its head directly to the Secretary of Defense.
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Rasser and several other experts argue that the US government needs to rethink its overall strategy and increase investment in AI research in order to maintain its leadership position and effectively counter China’s rising technological capabilities. It is difficult to summarize the current total government spending on AI research. In a report co-authored by Rasser in December 2019, non-defense spending was estimated at around $ 1 billion for fiscal 2020. The same report recommended that the government increase spending on AI to as much as $ 25 billion a year.
Some AI researchers are eager to see the law signed. “We cannot afford to fall behind in AI,” says Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for AI, who advocated the AI part of the legislation. “Our national security, economic vitality, medical innovation and our scientific progress will depend crucially on it in the years to come.”
The Defense Act also includes provisions requiring the government to devise a plan to spend an additional $ 10 billion a year on advanced technologies like AI, quantum computing and 5G cellular services through 2025.
The $ 740 billion defense spending bill was passed by the Senate and House of Representatives last week. The President has repeatedly stated that he will veto the law for a variety of reasons, including a provision to change the name of military facilities named after Confederate officers and lack of language to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects technology companies like Facebook and Twitter from liability for the content they host.
Trump has 10 days to decide whether to veto the bill. On Sunday, the president tweeted that the defense law would benefit China without explaining why. All eight of his previous vetoes were confirmed.
Tony Samp, attorney at DLA Piper and a former Senate caucus advisor on artificial intelligence, says bipartisan support for the law “reflects the recognition that AI is a breakthrough technology”. He also refers to parts of the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act that provide guidelines for future AI research, stressing the need to take algorithmic biases into account and the importance of “trustworthy” AI systems.