US President Donald Trump on February 11, 2019 signed an executive order directing federal agencies to prioritise research and development in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The order follows huge investment pledges from China and other countries intended to advance and apply AI technology in fields ranging from warfighting to health care.
The plan, called American AI initiative, requires the federal agencies to make government data and computing resources more available to AI experts while maintaining security and confidentiality.
Creating such standards for capturing and sharing huge troves of data, such as medical records, is expected to lead to breakthroughs in medical diagnosis and treatment.
The order also calls on agencies to protect civil liberties, privacy and American values in applying AI technologies and to help workers gain relevant skills through fellowships, apprenticeships, training programs and computer science education.
The executive doesn’t include any funding details. According to the US administration, it would be up to the Congress to appropriate the money.
The tech leaders from industry and academia have pushed the Trump administration to develop a national AI strategy.
The White House in December 2018 hosted a listening session with the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Qualcomm to field ideas for securing American dominance in AI and other fields such as quantum computing and faster wireless technology known as 5G.
Trump had made a brief mention of technology in his January State of the Union address, pledging investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future.
AI-based technologies such as facial recognition can be used to enhance government surveillance, while studies have found that computers are susceptible to the same racial and gender biases as the humans whose data they learn from.
According to Kate Crawford, a co-director of New York University’s AI Now Institute for studying the social implications of artificial intelligence, the directive takes some steps in the right direction but is too light on details.
Crawford explained that AI policy isn’t an autonomous vehicle, it needs a detailed plan or it’s going to run off the road.
While Crawford welcomed the Trump administration’s intention to accelerate research and regulate AI across different industrial sectors, she said the administration also must ensure that AI’s potential ethical challenges are taken seriously.