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President Trump Signs Order To Spur Artificial Intelligence

Joyce N. Boghosian
President Donald Trump signs the “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence” Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House. ";s:

An eagerly awaited national strategy on developing Artificial Intelligence was signed Monday, but lacks key details around funding and implementation.

President Donald Trump signed the executive order launching the “American Artificial Intelligence Initiative,” which is aimed at spurring innovation and maintaining the edge the U.S. currently holds in a field of quickly growing competitors.

"Our private companies are moving very fast, but the government is not,” said Darrell West with the Brookings Institution. “The government plays a major role just from a training standpoint, investing in education and making the infrastructure investments that will produce a network that can make use of AI."

By the end of last year, 18 countries had released national AI strategies. Half of those guiding documents came with the promise of funding. It isn't clear what funding sources will be brought to bare under Trump's order.

The executive order calls on federal agencies to prioritize the AI research, assist investigators in accessing federal data, and ensure that the field moves forward in an ethical and safe direction.

From the Order

  • Investing in AI Research and Development

Directs federal agencies to prioritize AI investments in their R&D missions, and funding in industry, academia.

  • Streamlining Access

Directs agencies to streamline access to federal data, models, computing power for AI experts.

  • Setting Guidelines

Directs National Institute of Standards and Technology to establish guidance for AI development and use.

  • Building Workforce

Directs federal agencies to prioritize training programs for American workers to gain “AI-relevant skills.”

  • Protecting U.S. AI Advantage

Directs federal agencies to create plans for protecting U.S. advantage in AI and other critical technology from foreign adversaries.

The Defense Department has been one of the leading U.S. agencies investing in AI. Last September, they committed $2 billion over five years to research.

So this is a good first step, West says, but China— the major competitor to the U.S. — wants to grow its AI industry to $150 billion by 2030, with the aim of being the biggest player in a field that many consider transformational. Two cities in china have committed to investing nearly $15 billion.

AI is expected to add $13 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

“What’s at stake is our economy in the future will be weaker and our national defense will be weaker,” said West of losing our competitive AI edge.

While China has made massive investments the past few years, it lags behind the U.S. in its talent pool — 8.9 percent of the global workforce compared to 13.9 percent from the U.S. — according to a report from the China Institute for Science and Technology Policy.  But the country is going to put vast resources towards changing that, and China already has more patents.

Despite Thursday’s announcement lacking detail around funding, many feel the executive order will focus energy and attention on AI.

"I think it just puts another spotlight on the importance of this particular technology,” said Bernard Arulanandam, Vice President of Research at the University of Texas San Antonio. “Given that AI is an area that not only the U.S. has an investment, but there’s a lot of competitors out there, we have countries like South Korea and China."

Many universities in the U.S., including UTSA, are attempting to hire in order to build a larger pipeline of talent. UTSA is poised now to hire eight new professors in the field. The university boasts more than 70 professors teaching and researching in the area.


The American AI Initiative also asks agencies to prepare to assist workers whose jobs are impacted by artificial intelligence. A study out last month showed nearly one in four San Antonio jobs were at high risk of being automated.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive