New Fed Initiative Wants to Make America Great in A.I.

President Donald Trump’s new “American A.I. Initiative” is designed to place the United States at the forefront of artificial intelligence research.

But the executive order itself is reportedly pretty broad about how the nation can actually achieve global A.I. superiority. According to Axios and other sources, there’s no new federal funding allocated for artificial-intelligence and machine learning projects; instead, government agencies are asked to shift existing funding to A.I. research, as well as open up datasets, models, and other resources to researchers and other tech pros—potentially fueling new inventions.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is also tasked with creating standards for safe and reliable A.I. systems. Government agencies will introduce fellowships and skills programs that will retrain workers to deal with an A.I.-centric future.

At this juncture, creating a national A.I. policy is a necessity if the United States wants to remain a significant player in the A.I. race. China has made A.I. development a priority, and other countries recognize the potential of A.I. to radically alter the geopolitical landscape.

“China’s significant focus on and investment in AI in the last few years has challenged the U.S. to do more,” Jamie Nafziger, partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney and Chair of its Cybersecurity, Privacy and Social Media Practice Group, wrote in an email to Dice. “It is excellent that the Trump Administration is raising the profile of this issue. However, access to data is becoming increasingly splintered in the U.S. as states begin to legislate in the vacuum created because we have no comprehensive federal privacy law. What the AI field may need most is funding and greater access to data.”

The federal government must also commit to maintaining any initiative over the longer term. “The administration’s American AI Initiative includes all of the right elements; the critical test will be to see if they follow through in a vigorous manner,” Jason Furman, a professor at Harvard and noted A.I. expert, told MIT Technology Review. “The plan is aspirational with no details and is not self-executing.”

For tech pros, a rigorously pushed federal initiative could radically change how they interact with A.I. It’s not just a matter of potentially receiving more funding and data for projects; new standards could restrict how artificial-intelligence platforms are developed and eventually used. In addition, federal guidelines could also ram into other privacy regulations, making things very complicated for those trying to build new A.I. tools.

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