Executive Order Lays Out Path to Keep US on Top in AI

Marcia Frellick

February 12, 2019

Federal agencies were ordered to prioritize advancing artificial intelligence (AI) in the United States under an executive order issued Monday by President Donald J. Trump.

The federal government plays a key role, the president wrote, in facilitating research and development surrounding AI and in deploying it strategically for advancements such as algorithms for disease diagnosis, autonomous cars, and industrial robots.

The statement cautioned that the American AI Initiative must be carried out with principles consistent with the nation's values.

"The United States must foster public trust and confidence in AI technologies and protect civil liberties, privacy, and American values in their application in order to fully realize the potential of AI technologies," the statement reads.

The order includes calls for training a workforce for current and future jobs in AI, emphasizing education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and removing barriers to research.

"Artificial Intelligence will affect the missions of nearly all executive departments and agencies," the order reads.

The White House plan doesn't include any funding details, leaving that to Congress.

The AI Race

The order comes amid reports that other countries, particularly China, are beefing up their investment in AI.

Erik Brynjolfsson, PhD, a management professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, told the Associated Press (AP), "The good news is America's research infrastructure in artificial intelligence is leading the world. But other countries are making much more aggressive investments and rapidly closing the gap, especially China."

In July 2017, China issued its own statement of future AI dominance: "By 2030, our country will reach a world-leading level in artificial intelligence theory, technology, and application and become a principal world center for artificial intelligence innovation," the statement said.

On Monday, Medscape Medical News reported that an AI system developed using a large database in China was able to sort dangerous pediatric conditions from less-urgent ones.

Healthcare IT News reports that a Chinese company estimates that, by the end of March, there will be 14 hospitals in Guangdong, China, using cameras to detect diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.

Kate Crawford, a codirector of New York University's AI Now Institute for studying social implications of AI, told the AP that the executive order is a good step, but short on details.

"AI policy isn't an autonomous vehicle," Crawford said. "You basically need a detailed plan or it's going to run off the road."

The president said as soon as he submits his budget request to Congress, heads of research and development agencies will need to communicate their plans for how they will prioritize artificial intelligence projects.

The public will get to weigh in as well.

The order states that within 90 days, a notice in the Federal Register will invite the public to identify additional requests for access or quality improvements that would improve AI research, development, and testing.

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