Senators Press For National Artificial Intelligence Strategy

Several U.S. senators have proposed the Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act to create a national AI strategy and fund federal R&D in this growing area to the tune of $2.2 billion. The initiative’s $2.2 billion would be awarded over a five-year period to multiple federal agencies. At the same time, although the European Commission put out guidelines for artificial intelligence technology, some experts are saying that the tech companies that participated in drafting guidelines compromised them to protect their own interests.

VentureBeat reports that the Act, created by senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), would fund agencies such as the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and would also “establish a National AI Coordination Office to lead federal AI efforts, require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the effects of AI on society and education, and allocate $40 million a year to NIST to create AI evaluation standards.”

The legislation would also provide $20 million per year, from 2020 to 2024, “to fund the creation of five multidisciplinary AI research centers, with one focused solely on K-12 education.” About 30 countries have already created national AI strategies.

After a House AI Caucus was formed in 2017, the three senators established the Senate Artificial Intelligence Caucus in March. In February, President Trump inked an executive order to “support a federal AI strategy.” “I give the administration credit for putting some real thought into AI, however, their efforts have not been as coordinated across government agencies as we’d like, and so we set up a structure to make sure that that’s occurring,” said Heinrich, who is concerned that the U.S. can’t keep up with “investments by nations like China.”

China has already signaled its intention to be the global AI leader by 2030. “I think it is probably not reasonable to think that we’re going to match them on a dollar for dollar basis,” said Heinrich. “Where we can exceed the Chinese is in innovation and having the sort of environment that facilitates both innovation and respect for ethical conduct.”

Wired reports that Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz philosopher Thomas Metzinger criticized the European Commission’s AI guidelines saying that, “too many of the experts who created [them] came from or were aligned with industry interests.” He and another group member drafted a list of prohibited AI uses, including autonomous weapons, but “tech’s allies later convinced the broader group that it shouldn’t draw any ‘red lines’ around uses of AI.” In the formal draft, “red lines” became “critical concerns,” which “appeared to please Microsoft.”

Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler also believes that, “industry has mobilized to shape the science, morality and laws of artificial intelligence … becoming too influential over how society governs and scrutinizes the effects of AI.”

Signs of pushback include San Francisco’s ban of the city’s use of facial recognition and the Algorithmic Accountability Act, introduced by senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and representative Yvette Clarke (D-New York), to require companies to “assess whether AI systems and their training data have built-in biases, or could harm consumers through discrimination.”

OECD Releases AI Recommendations For 36 Nation-States, VentureBeat, 5/22/19