Is America’s AI strategy sufficient to keep up with rivals?

The US is stepping-up its efforts in Artificial Intelligence, but it is enough?
7 June 2018

Trump is keen on building AI solutions in America. Source: AFP

The US administration has finally put together an AI taskforce to promote an ‘America First’ attitude to AI.

As such, tech giants Amazon, Google, and Facebook, and 34 other major American firms were promptly invited to the Whitehouse in May, to discuss regulatory restrictions to the burgeoning technology.

This new focus on AI is part of the US’s renewed drive to advance its at-home capabilities, to keep up with competitors, such as China and Russia.

The news is somewhat of a change of heart from the Trump administration.  Some members of the government had previously shown initial skepticism about the technology, which contrasted starkly with China’s full-throttle approach.

US Investments

However, in May, the Whitehouse released information detailing it’s past and present AI investments.

It said the Federal Government’s expenditure in unclassified R&D for AI and related technologies had grown by over 40 percent since 2015, in addition to substantial classified investments across the defense and intelligence communities.

In September, President Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum prioritizing high-quality Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education, with a particular focus on computer science education, but not AI specifically.

It committed US$200 million in grant funds that were matched by a private industry commitment of US$300 million

According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy estimations, the government spent more than US$2 billion in unclassified programs in 2017.

The General Services Administration has also launched a pilot program to find ways to use AI to create efficiencies. And the National Institutes of Health is examining how AI could improve algorithms for cancer detection and treatment.

But it is enough?

Not for some critics. According to Will Knight, Senior Editor for AI at MIT Review, the administration lacks an ‘overarching plan or new funding’.

He also said that the task force might seem like a relatively small gesture compared to other countries initiatives and funding.

He has a point.

In July last year, Beijing leaders announced a local AI incubator estimated to be worth around US$150 billion by 2030.

In April, the UK announced an AI Sector Deal worth £1 billion, including £300 million of private sector investment.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has said it will boost its investment in artificial intelligence by about 70 percent to 1.5 billion euros (US$1.83 billion) by 2020.

India has budgeted around US$477 million for its Digital India initiative to promote AI, machine learning, 3D printing, and other technologies.

And although it’s unclear how much Russia is investing in the technology, President Putin has previously said “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” leaving little doubt about his commitment to furthering Russia’s AI capabilities.

The US Could Do More

In comparison to China, the world’s second-largest economy, behind the US, America’s investments in AI are lacking. Maybe the government thinks Silicon Valley will take care of the rest. Or perhaps there is more to come.

Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president and deputy chief technology officer in the administration, has suggested the government could create more initiatives, including sharing taxpayer data to support new AI algorithms.

He has also stated that he believes AI can help rejuvenate stagnant industries and has a future vision for the technology.

However, how else the US will support the burgeoning and ever pervasive AI sector remains to be seen; but it’s clear it could do more.

Experts say it could start by removing other barriers to AI development locally, including restrictions on immigration that make it harder for tech talent to work in the US.