Break news e-mails

Receive news reports and special reports. The news and the stories that matter are delivered on weekday mornings.

REGISTER

February 12, 2019, 5:38 pm GMT

By David Ingram

Almost two years after China first drafted the plan to become world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, the US released its own playbook on Monday.

The document, an executive order from President Donald Trump, explained his view on the development of artificial intelligence, but left a big question open: where is the money?

"Money speaks when it comes to government priorities, and new money actually drives priorities," said R. David Edelman, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama for technology policy.

The execution order of Trump, in which no new financing for A.I. was included. research, comes in the midst of increasing tension about China's ambitious efforts. In 2017, China drew up a national plan for A.I. to develop. technology, an ambition that was compared to the Apollo missions to the moon and that reduced anxiety within the United States when the White House of Trump was quiet.

"It's kind of a new arms race," said Theresa Payton, US chief information officer under President George W. Bush.

But A.I. is not just about weapons. The technology is seen by many policymakers, technologists and scientists as a key role in the future of business, governance and just about any other part of human life, and poses difficult questions about the trade-offs between unrestricted growth and the need to keep pace. with an international rival.

"The arms race used to deal with weapons," she said. "But who will become the economic superpower? Much of it will rest on who owns and manages the latest technology."

follow the leader

Although it is perhaps best known from films about killer robots, A.I. in real life is being developed to automate a variety of tasks from the difficult to the everyday. Researchers program A.I. to diagnose illnesses, improve internet services, accelerate transport and better target weapons at war. A.I. is generally seen as a computer code that can improve its capabilities over time based on the data being entered.

The plan of China has informed the world about the A.I. of the country. ambitions, but it also served to mark the lead that the US had acquired. Much of the world's leading research in A.I. takes place in private US companies such as Google, and Trump's executive order does not contain a plan to change that.

And the US remains the top destination for global investments in A.I. startups. CB Insights, a company that tracks risk capital spending, found that more than half of the $ 19.2 billion in A.I. startups in 2018 went to US-based companies.

Instead, the order says to the heads of federal agencies to consider A.I. as a priority when drafting research and development plans. Unless Congress appropriates money, agencies will have to find it by cutting other parts of their budget, and it is not clear what they can cut or when.

The executive order is the first attempt by the Trump administration to explain his views on artificial intelligence. There is A.I. "Promises to stimulate growth" and that the US must maintain "leadership" in the field, and it lets authorities know that the White House expects them to pay attention to the subject. It also encourages the availability of big data sets that can be used to A.I. to train. systems.

To the extent that agencies find money, it would go to research, as well as programs for training and staff training, according to the executive order. But the lack of money comes down to an "unfunded mandate," Payton said.

Asked about the absence of new money, an official of the Trump spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly that the federal agencies are obliged to report on their financing plans to White House officials, to ensure compliance with the order.

With regard to Chinese competition, the official said that the board welcomes cooperation with like-minded partners to the useful use of A.I. to improve. and also to protect the American technological advantage in A.I. from hostile nations.

The nest of a hornet of regulation

Experts who spoke to Good King News said they took China seriously as a competitor in the development of A.I. but noted that the public perception of China's current capacities had become exaggerated.

Last year a paper by Jeffrey Ding, a researcher at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, specializing in Chinese A.I. strategy, concluded that the United States was well over the country with 33 percent of total A.I. capacities compared with 17 percent for China.

"I think there is significant overinflation of China's A.I capabilities, especially among US policy circles," Ding said.

"I think the US has a number of structural benefits in both the chip industry that have a lot of A.I development as well as the number of A.I experts and talented people contributing to fundamental innovations in the A.I space," he said.

Some are skeptical about labeling the competition as an arms race with a clear winner, arguing that China and the United States are not in competition with each other, such as an athletics competition. China can take the lead in specific applications and not in others.

"It is an incredibly broad range of technologies with an incredibly wide range of applications, so I think it's hard to say that this country has a head start on that one company or business ahead," said Michael Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, the research department of the consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. "It is not like basketball where there is only one score."

The varied applications of A.I. are one of the reasons why technology can make a hornbill for governments and regulators trying to find out how their development can be encouraged, while ensuring that it is not misused by private companies or by other countries.

Chris Meserole, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings institution in Washington, said that China has already exported A.I.-activated facial recognition software to other countries, including countries with authoritarian governments.

"I'm not so worried about the loss of the arms race, I'm more worried about the impact on human rights around the world," he said. "China uses A.I in ways that undermine human rights in the world, especially in its own country."

Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., Vice-President of the Senate Intelligence Commission, pointed out that Trump's executive power did not address this issue – or similar actions by American companies.

An Apple HomePod loudspeaker in a store in New York on February 9, 2018. Mark Kauzlarich / Bloomberg via the file Getty Images

"It provides little concrete guidance on how the US should respond to contradictory and malicious use of AI technologies by both state and non-state actors, nor about cases where US technology companies work in and with hostile countries in ways that include civil liberties, undermine privacy and American leadership, "Warner said in a statement.

One of the ways in which competition is expected is decisions about exports. US laws restrict the export of certain technology to military applications and artificial intelligence researchers have wondered if their work could be a future target for tighter controls.

But since the research is so extensive, Edelman said it would be difficult for both countries to draw up strict rules if they wanted to keep pace.

"It is almost impossible to examine the wish to win on A.I. research with the desire to A.I. under wraps."

Jason Abbruzzese contributed.