National technology investment strategies are hard to define let alone pass through complicated legislative bodies, like the US Congress, even when there’s a declared war that threatens a country’s financial and economic competitiveness. The war for global leadership in artificial intelligence and machine learning is well underway, and the US is poised to lose perhaps the most important technology war in its history.
Is the AI war well-understood? Not even close, at least not by the “leaders” who develop national strategies or by the citizens of the United States – who all need to spend some time on https://willrobotstakemyjob.com. While I searched and searched, I could not find a single political candidate in the recent US mid-term elections who discussed AI, the AI war, or how the US will likely lose the war unless a massive strategic pivot occurs immediately. Since they’re mostly unaware of the war, US leaders have no strategies to prevent an historic loss: imagine the implications of electing politicians who have no idea a deadly war is underway.
So what’s going on?
AI/machine learning/deep learning (let’s call it all “AI”) are the new digital weapons – which, by the way, the US Department of Defense discovered decades ago. While we could certainly examine the importance of AI in global military and economic warfare, no one can argue that AI is unimportant. In fact, it’s at least a 9 or any imaginable 10-point scale. I give it an easy 10. So do lots of others who research technology trends and technology adoption, especially those who track indicators of national success.
The Chinese have a very public, very-deep, extremely well-funded commitment to AI. Air Force General VeraLinn Jamieson says it plainly: “We estimate the total spending on artificial intelligence systems in China in 2017 was $12 billion. We also estimate that it will grow to at least $70 billion by 2020.” According to the Obama White House Report in 2016, China publishes more journal articles on deep learning than the US and has increased its number of AI patents by 200%. China is determined to be the world leader in AI by 2030.
Listen to what Tristan Greene writing in TNW concludes about the US’s commitment to AI: “Unfortunately, despite congressional efforts to get the conversation started at the national level in the US, the White House’s current leadership doesn’t appear interested in coming up with a strategy to keep up with China.” It gets worse: “China has allocated billions of dollars towards infrastructure to house hundreds of AI businesses in dedicated industrial parks. It has specific companies, the Chinese counterparts to US operations like Google and Amazon, working on different problems in the field of AI. And it’s regulating education so that the nation produces more STEM workers. But perhaps most importantly, China makes it compulsory for businesses and private citizens to share their data with the government – something far more valuable than money in the world of AI.”
Greene’s scary bottom line? “Meanwhile, in the US, the Trump administration has shown little interest in discussing its own country’s AI – yet, may soon have to talk to China’s.”
More data? According to Iris Deng, “China ranks first in the quantity and citation of research papers, and holds the most AI patents, edging out the US and Japan … (and) China has not been shy about its ambitions for AI dominance, with the State Council releasing a road map in July 2017 with a goal of creating a domestic industry worth 1 trillion yuan and becoming a global AI powerhouse by 2030.”
It’s obvious: “Without more leadership from Congress and the President, the U.S. is in serious danger of losing the economic and military rewards of artificial intelligence (AI) to China. That’s the somber conclusion of a report published … by the House Oversight and Reform IT subcommittee.”
Jerry Bowles also says it clearly: “The U.S. has traditionally led the world in the development and application of AI-driven technologies, due in part to the government’s commitment to investing heavily in research and development. That has, in turn, helped support AI’s growth and development. In 2015, the United States led the world in total gross domestic RD expenditures, spending $497 billion. But, since then, neither Congress nor the Trump administration has paid much attention to AI and government RD investment has been essentially flat. Meanwhile, China has made AI a key part of its formal economic plans for the future.”
The US House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Information Technology Committee on Oversight Government Reform summarizes it but not definitively:
“There is a pressing need for conscious, direct, and spirited leadership from the Trump Administration. The 2016 reports put out by the Obama Administration’s National Science and Technology Council and the recent actions of the Trump Administration are steps in the right direction. However, given the actions taken by other countries – especially China – Congress and the Administration will need to increase the time, attention, and level of resources the federal government devotes to AI research and development, as well as push for agencies to further build their capacities for adapting to advanced technologies.”
“The government has an essential role to play in securing American leadership in AI. Fulfilling this role will require balancing the creative energy of innovative Americans whose knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit have driven the development of this technology with regulatory frameworks that protect consumers. To ensure the appropriate balance is met, it is vital Congress and the Executive Branch continue to educate themselves about AI, increase the expenditures of RD funds, help set the agenda for public debate, and, where appropriate, define the role of AI in the future of this nation.”
Clearly, a coordinated, heavily-funded American response is way overdue. Here are some specific steps:
- The individual American states – all 50 and Puerto Rico – need their own AI investment strategies. They should appoint commissions and, ideally, Chief AI Technology Officers. State’s should aggressively fund AI research and development, and partner with the federal government where AI intersects with problems all states face, like infrastructure, healthcare and education, among others.
- Private and public universities should be funded by federal and state governments to develop educational programs in AI and conduct basic and applied research in AI. Block grants to universities should begin immediately.
- Increased RD tax incentives and credits to companies who invest specifically in AI.
- Primary and secondary educational programs should be retrofitted with much deeper STEM content. Longer school years should begin immediately. Grants for science, mathematics and computer science education should be equally awarded to public, private and charter schools.
- The US response to China (and other nations investing heavily in AI) must obviously be aggressive and immediate, which includes leadership from the recently appointed White House Science Advisor and the expansion of the Office of Scientific Technology Policy, well beyond an offset to major recent personnel cuts, the restoration of cuts to major science programs recently eliminated by the Trump administration, and the creation of major new programs in AI, machine learning and deep learning.
- A national AI Czar should be appointed with broad funding and programmatic authority. The Czar should be a Cabinet-level official, similar to the Director of National Intelligence. The Director of Artificial Intelligence should oversee a national research and development program and serve as the principal advisor to the President of the United States on all aspects of AI and intelligent systems technology.
- Immigration policy regarding H-1B visas for technology professionals should be broadly widened and eased. Rani Molla writing in recode reminds us that“immigrants and their children have helped found 60 percent of the most highly valued tech companies in the U.S., Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers partner Mary Meeker told the Code Conference last year in her annual internet trends report. Right now those companies – which include Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook – have a combined market value of $3.8 trillion.”
These steps represent a good start to turn the tide of the AI war – a war the US simply cannot afford to lose.