The Federal government was busy not only talking about AI last year, but also turning that enthusiasm into record spending levels on the emerging technology.

According to a new report from Stanford University, Federal spending on AI contracts totaled $3.3 billion last year. Not to be outdone, lawmakers passed more AI-related bills in fiscal year (FY) 2022 than ever before.

Stanford’s “Artificial Intelligence Index Report 2023” says that from 2021 to 2022, total AI spending within the Federal government increased from $2.7 billion to $3.3 billion. Since 2017, total spending has increased nearly 2.5 times.

In 2022, the AI subsegments that saw the greatest amount of government spending included decision science – $1.2 billion – and computer vision – $.8 billion.

As for the different Federal sectors, the report finds that nondefense spending in AI out-bid the Defense Department (DoD).

In FY 2022, nondefense agencies allocated a total of $1.7 billion to AI R&D – up more than 200 percent from FY 2018. An even greater amount, $1.8 billion, was requested for FY 2023. The DoD requested $1.1 billion for FY 2023, a 26.4 percent increase from the funding it received in FY 2022.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers were highly engaged on the AI front. In 2021, only two percent of all Federal AI bills became law. This number jumped to 10 percent in 2022.

A closer look at the Federal legislative record shows a sharp increase in the total number of proposed bills that relate to AI, the report says. In 2015, just one Federal bill was proposed, while in 2021, 134 bills were offered.

While fewer bills were proposed in 2022, the number of approved bills – which remained at three for each of the past four years – increased to nine.

Other top takeaways from Stanford’s 386-page report include: AI is both helping and harming the environment; the number of incidents concerning the misuse of AI is rapidly rising; the demand for AI-related professional skills is increasing across virtually every American industrial sector; the U.S. leads the world in AI investment; and Americans feel the most negatively about AI products and services.

According to the report, new research suggests that AI systems can have serious environmental impacts – like emitting 25 times the amount of carbon than a plane flying from New York to San Francisco – but AI systems can be used to optimize energy usage, too.

The number of AI incidents and controversies has increased 26 times since 2012, Stanford says. A notable incident in 2022 included a deepfake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy surrendering. “This growth is evidence of both greater use of AI technologies and awareness of misuse possibilities,” the report says.

Across every sector in the U.S., the number of AI-related job postings has increased on average from 1.7 percent in 2021 to 1.9 percent in 2022. Employers are increasingly looking for workers with AI-related skills.

The report also notes that the U.S. led the world in terms of total amount of AI private investment. In 2022, the $47.4 billion invested in the U.S. was roughly 3.5 times the amount invested in the next highest country, China – $13.4 billion.

The U.S. also continues to lead in terms of total number of newly funded AI companies, seeing 1.9 times more than the European Union and the United Kingdom combined, and 3.4 times more than China.

“Chinese citizens are among those who feel the most positively about AI products and services. Americans … not so much,” the report says.

Seventy-eight percent of Chinese respondents agreed with the statement that products and services using AI have more benefits than drawbacks, while only 35 percent of Americans agreed with the same statement.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.