Earlier this year, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at promoting the advancement of American AI technology. This announcement came as a surprise to many in the tech industry, but a welcome one. Some say the U.S. is falling behind the curve when it comes to investing in AI research and development. But we’ll find out about Trump’s AI initiatives and the future of AI and governments.

With the Chinese government hailing AI development as a priority for the country, and many small but wealthy countries like the UAE creating ministries for AI  the U.S. may find that its place as the leader of the AI field is threatened. Steps should be taken to ensure that there is a plan to promote American research into AI development. This new executive order may be the necessary push to keep the U.S. at the forefront of the AI field.

Accelerating America’s Leadership in Artificial Intelligence

The executive order, entitled Accelerating America’s Leadership in Artificial Intelligence, contains five core pillars regarding the expansion of  U.S. AI research efforts. These pillars are:

  • Research and development, which requests that federal research organizations devote funding to and report upon advancements in AI research.

  • Infrastructure, which encourages the sharing of data between organizations.

  • Governance, which will lay out ethical and safety standards for the use of AI.

  • Workforce, which will support ongoing training and education in AI-focused fields.

  • International engagement, which addresses multi-national collaboration without sacrificing the competitive technological edge the U.S. is seeking.

What the executive order doesn’t include, however, is any information on how these initiatives will be funded. The Trump administration reportedly has stated that it is up to Congress to allocate funding for the new changes.

In addition to a lack of information on how these initiatives will be funded, many industry experts warn that the current executive order is light on critical details. Kate Crawford, the co-director of the New York University-based AI Now Institute raises concerns over the passing mentions of privacy and civil liberties. She is concerned that the administration’s controversial track record when it comes to these essential issues may lead to an abuse of AI technology without proper limitations put in place by ethics committees.

What Does the New AI Initiative Mean for Researchers?

The move to push for more significant research and reporting on AI, as well as more training and educational opportunities to increase the AI-knowledgeable workforce, is applauded as a long overdue change. After the Obama administration’s 2016 report on artificial intelligence and automation, little has been done to advance the U.S.’s knowledge and understanding of AI. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has made a 200 percent increase in AI research and development funding since 2000, which is putting China on track to match U.S. spending in the field by the end of the year.

While it is crucial to develop a national strategy regarding AI development, the executive order is merely the first step in the right direction. Jason Furman, a Harvard professor who served on the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisors, points out that the new AI executive order is aspirational, but lacks a detailed plan to reach the stated objectives. If the Trump administration follows through on the executive order, it is possible that the hoped-for changes can occur.

If the executive order is to make a tangible difference for American AI researchers, it is clear that a more formal plan must be developed and goals must be set to remain competitive in the world of AI.

Advancing Artificial Intelligence for Governmental Use

AI has nearly limitless applications, including national security and warfare. In the past few decades, we’ve seen how the use of artificial intelligence has dramatically changed the face of war and the ability to maintain national security. It is, of course, one of the goals in advancing U.S. power in the field of AI to continue security and surveillance developments.

These advancements, however, cannot be pursued without close attention to the civil liberties and personal privacy of citizens. While artificial intelligence and facial recognition software have immense power to assist government surveillance efforts, it also has been demonstrated that AI is not free from racial bias and prejudice. It is critical that policymakers not only think about the advancement of AI but the inclusion of our values while implementing this technology.

Erik Brynjolfsson, a management professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, states, “China in many ways has very different values than we have in the West about things like surveillance, privacy, democracy, property rights. If we want Western values to thrive, we need to play a role in maintaining and even extending the technological strength we’ve long had.”

The U.S. has the power to shape the face of artificial intelligence in incredible ways, primarily through international collaboration.

This collaboration, however, cannot be entirely successful with the current “arms race” view many countries hold about AI research and development. There is no one path to progress in the field of artificial intelligence, and the advancement of AI isn’t a winner-takes-all situation.

It is an important consideration that our ethical standards and policy guidelines keep pace with the rapid development of artificial intelligence. The field isn’t free from controversy, which is why it is especially important to address the concerns of automation-cause job loss, personal data privacy, and civil liberties proactively and frequently as the research and development of AI continues to evolve.

Whether the Accelerating America’s Leadership in Artificial Intelligence executive order will bring about tangible change in the artificial intelligence field is yet to be seen, but this order is hopefully the beginning of a new age of research and technological advancement for America. We are excited to discover how this policy will impact the world of artificial intelligence and continue to watch the advancement of American AI.

Rana Gujral

Rana Gujral is an entrepreneur, speaker, investor and the CEO of Behavioral Signals, an enterprise software company that delivers a robust and fast evolving emotion AI engine that introduces emotional intelligence into speech recognition technology. Rana has been awarded the ‘Entrepreneur of the Month’ by CIO Magazine and the ‘US China Pioneer’ Award by IEIE, he has been listed among Top 10 Entrepreneurs to follow in 2017 by Huffington Post.