Is the U.S. Getting Serious About Artificial Intelligence?

The White House’s planned advisory committee on artificial intelligence may or may not help keep the country at the forefront of technological innovation, but it is another sign that the government is getting more serious about the importance of AI and the potential threats of falling behind in the “AI arms race.”

The Trump administration said earlier this month it will establish the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence as part of an overall effort to coordinate Federal research and development efforts with regard to AI, while working to involve industry and academia to “realize the full potential of AI,” according to the White House announcement from its Summit on Artificial Intelligence for American Industry.

The committee will be comprised of senior research and development officials at a range of agencies and offices, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA). Also at the table will be the technology-focused undersecretaries of the departments of Defense, Commerce and Energy, along with representatives from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Security Council (NSC).

“Our continued leadership in the field that American researchers pioneered is not just a request; it is an imperative,” Michael Kratsios, deputy CTO of the White House OSTP, said at the event.

Development in AI platforms and applications has been painted as the new arms race by Defense officials, who have frequently cited investments by other countries in AI–particularly by China, which says it plans to be the world leader by 2030–and the technology’s role in the emergence in a new kind of “hyperwar.” Domestically, officials also have pointed out that innovations tend to come from the private sector, which is why DoD has been looking to develop partnerships with industry through efforts such as the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx).

The outline of the White House’s plan focuses on investment, saying it will prioritize funding for AI research and development efforts in areas such as computing infrastructure, machine learning, and autonomous systems. The administration also said it will lower regulatory barriers to innovation, and support the use of AI in military and civilian operations.

The summit came on the heels of DoD’s recent announcement of plans for a Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), which will combine efforts within DoD and the Intelligence Community to accelerate the deployment of AI tools. The JAIC is still in the early stages of development, but has the backing of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who told the House Armed Services Committee in April that DoD was looking for a central organization to concentrate the hundreds of AI-related efforts the department currently has underway.

Industry, for its part, has called for a greater focus from government on AI investment and development, citing some of the same concerns about the U.S. losing ground to other countries. At the same time, it also has dealt with a little insurgency over being involved in national security projects. Thousands of Google employees, for instance, objected to the company’s involvement with DoD’s AI-powered Project Maven, with about a dozen employees recently quitting in protest. The Pentagon has countered that Project Maven, which wants to use AI to speed up analysis of drone surveillance footage, isn’t a weapons program, and Google has said it plans to stay with the project.

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