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By Sara Castellanos
The announcement Tuesday of a nearly $1 billion federal commitment toward artificial-intelligence research drew a mixed response from business leaders who said the U.S. needs to do more to maintain a competitive edge in AI.
Government agencies requested $973.5 million in nondefense AI research spending for the fiscal year ending in September 2020. It is the first time the federal government has calculated agency-specific requests for spending on artificial intelligence. AI spending for the Defense Department is classified.
Trump administration officials said they believe the total reflects their commitment to maintaining and strengthening U.S. leadership in AI. They also suggested their figures are more transparent than China's AI investment numbers, which have prompted worry in the U.S.
"Too often, the conversation focuses almost exclusively not on where America is dominant, but instead on the alleged disparity in government spending on AI R&D," Michael Kratsios, the U.S. chief technology officer, said at a Washington panel event. "In American AI R&D budgets, you won't find aspirational expenditures or cryptic funding mechanisms."
But representatives from chip makers Intel Corp. and Nvidia Corp., who were participating in the event, said the U.S. needed to invest even more in AI. They also criticized federal officials for not doing enough to come up with regulations governing data protection and privacy, which some experts argue could spur private investment in AI because the technology relies heavily on data.
"We're nowhere near where we should be" in government funding for AI research, said Jackie Medecki, director and managing attorney of Intel's U.S. AI and health-care policy division.
She called for federal privacy regulations clarifying how data could be used. Currently, various state laws govern data privacy. Ms. Medecki says that "patchwork" of regulations makes it difficult to use AI. Having a national, comprehensive privacy law would create more trust in AI by creating guardrails around the use of people's data, she said. "A big miss for the U.S. is the failure to have robust national privacy legislation," she said.
The White House plan calls for government agencies to develop ethical AI systems and shared public data sets for AI training, and seeks to improve how humans and machines interact, among many other initiatives.
In February, President Trump signed an executive order to focus on AI initiatives that included investing in research and development and setting AI governance standards. Various other countries have developed national strategies to promote the use and development of AI, including China, Finland, Canada, France and Germany. In 2017, Beijing announced plans to lead the world in AI by 2030.
Ms. Medecki said the U.S. government should follow the example of countries like Estonia, which developed a formal strategy for how the technology should be used, including AI's ethical implications.
Intel this year released a set of recommendations for the U.S. government on AI. They included suggestions to mandate the adoption of AI systems throughout the government and to adopt federal privacy legislation.
"I think there is a real government role, and frankly a little bit of failure here...to show examples of AI and how AI can help us," Ms. Medecki said.
China is adopting AI at a faster rate than the U.S. and the European Union, possibly because Chinese companies and citizens understand the value of AI, according to an August report released by the Center for Data Innovation, a nonpartisan research institute. Tuesday's event was held at the National Press Club and hosted by the Center for Data Innovation.
The U.S. government should do more to maintain the country's status as a leader in AI, said Anthony Robbins, Nvidia's vice president for the North American public sector. Washington needs to boost its AI training programs and figure out a way to compete for AI talent with startups and technology companies that pay more, he said.
"A billion dollars is certainly a great thing and certainly interesting, but it's not nearly enough," he said.
--John D. McKinnon contributed to this article.
Write to Sara Castellanos at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 10, 2019 18:32 ET (22:32 GMT)
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