Trump to launch ‘American AI Initiative’ later today
America may be the current world leader in artificial intelligence, but its place is anything but assured. While nations around the world have launched programs to stimulate AI development, the Trump administration has practically ignored the topic. That will change later today, when President Tump is expected to sign an executive order creating the “American AI Initiative” — a high-level strategy guiding AI development within the US.
The initiative will redirect federal funding and resources towards AI research, as well as call for the creation of US-led international standards in AI, and new research into the retraining of American workers. But the program includes no new funding for AI development, and is thin on details. The administration is not sharing any timelines for reaching its stated goals, and is instead promising a more detailed plan some time in the coming six months.
The initiative as currently reported addresses a number of areas of key concern in AI development, but the lack of new funding will worry some. To date, 18 countries have launched national AI strategies, and half of these include new sources of funding. Figures range from roughly $20 million in Australia and Denmark to nearly $2 billion in South Korea.
Notably, the new program fails to address the issue of immigration. America’s lead in AI is partly due to its ability to attract foreign talent, but experts warn that researchers are increasingly put off by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and its promises to restrict visa freedoms. According to statistics from the National Science Foundation, the number of overseas grad students in the US fell by 5.5 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Kate Crawford, co-director of the New York University research group AI Now, told Science Magazinethat the executive order “correctly highlights AI as a major priority for US policymaking,” but lacks input from academics and civic leaders. This is especially worrying given the potential of AI technologies like facial recognition to impinge upon privacy and civil liberties. Recently, tech companies like Microsoft have called for federal regulation of facial recognition, but the AI Initiative includes no reference to these concerns.
Jason Furman, a Harvard professor who served as chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and helped draft the previous administration’s report on AI, told Technology Reviewthat the plan was a step in the right direction, but would need concrete commitments — not just promises — in order to fulfill its stated goals.
“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,” said Furman. “The plan is aspirational with no details and is not self-executing.”