What the American AI Initiative Could Mean for Our Future

Data, Innovation, News March 8, 2019
Robot waving American flag and binary code in the background

If anything tells us how far artificial intelligence has come, it’s got to be this. A few weeks ago, the White House released an executive order signed by the president establishing the “American AI Initiative.” This initiative is designed to help maintain the United States’ position as a leader in artificial intelligence by designating federal funds for research and development (R&D) initiatives, workforce training programs, and the opening of government data to research projects.

According to the executive order, “Continued American leadership in AI is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States and to shaping the global evolution of AI in a manner consistent with our Nation’s values, policies, and priorities. The Federal Government plays an important role in facilitating AI R&D, promoting the trust of the American people in the development and deployment of AI-related technologies, training a workforce capable of using AI in their occupations, and protecting the American AI technology base from attempted acquisition by strategic competitors and adversarial nations.”

While the American AI Initiative is being criticized by some for its lack of strategy and detail, as well as for a lack of funding, the initiative is still a first step toward embracing this technology for the future. Automation and artificial intelligence initiatives are being adopted in a number of countries around the globe, and the U.S. should definitely be one of them. As AI continues to become more pervasive, certain developments (and, dare we say, safeguards?) need to happen to ensure we are all navigating in the right direction.

We’re always excited to see government agencies embrace technology. This new initiative, if properly planned for and funded, has a lot of potential. It could mean great things for the future! With much enthusiasm and optimism, here are five opportunities we see.

Research and development

One “pillar” of the initiative is to promote research and development in AI by giving researchers access to federal data and resources. The government will also provide computing power and cloud-compute resources to AI-related applications and research projects. Opening up government data for research projects could mean advances in public health (think of all the CDC data), new insights into environmental science and technologies that tackle climate change, insights into economic growth among a variety of populations … the sky’s the limit!

Access to cloud-compute resources would also provide smaller AI firms the ability to test and research without requiring huge investments.

Regulation

One major thing the AI industry lacks is a centralized AI regulatory or research group. There are some departments that have their own individual AI initiatives but no overall federal regulations. Why do we need regulation? There has been a lot of discussion about the need to create policies for the collection and use of data in large part due to huge data breaches and misuse of personal data. (Remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal?) With emerging technologies, such as AI facial regulation, the use of AI could potentially harm citizens rather than help them. Now is the time to develop some clear policies guidelines and regulations around the proper, ethical use of artificial intelligence.

Workforce development

While AI has the potential to create new jobs, the automation aspects of it are also eliminating jobs. We desperately need workforce training programs designed to train both current workers and the generation about to enter the workforce to be ready for 21st century jobs.

The initiative mentions retraining programs, apprenticeships, fellowships, and skill-based technical education. These are all essential components for ensuring the American workforce is prepared. Currently, across the country there are data and analytics jobs that cannot be filled due to a lack of qualified applicants. Programs like these can help align people’s professional skills and training with the jobs that need to be filled.

Standardization

Technology standards for AI applications are only beginning to develop. We still have a ways to go; however, with government support we can get there faster. Standards are necessary to ensure AI is being used ethically and that AI systems are built to be interoperable, reliable, and secure.

Funding

This piece is perhaps the most vague part of the initiative. The executive order calls for federal agencies to invest in AI and to make it one of their top priorities. It also calls for federal funding and resources for AI research and initiatives – but without saying where the funding will come from. Pretty vague, yes, but on can only hope federal agencies will use this directive to be more innovative and efficient – and to consider AI when looking for solutions to problems and new programs they develop.

The future of AI in America?

Artificial intelligence could create positive change across so many government entities and in so many government applications. If AI can remove data entry and manual tasks and make businesses more efficient and data driven, think of how it could transform our government agencies. The potential is huge.

The time to invest in AI – and to take it seriously – is now. The American AI Initiative is a promising first step, but the plan as a whole lacks detail. If we want to be on the cutting edge as a country and be a nation where AI companies innovate and thrive, we have to invest the resources (including our attention and motivation) in basic research, education, government funding, standards, and regulations.

This official statement from Carnegie Mellon University sums it up perfectly. “This is an opportunity for Congress and the Administration to work together to increase R&D investment in artificial intelligence, which will bring greater resources to bear on the critical AI challenges and opportunities facing our nation. The American AI Initiative’s focus on prioritizing research and development, responsibly leveraging data as a national resource and investing in an AI-ready workforce will bring new energy to our national innovation ecosystem.”

If the wheels are turning now and you’re thinking, “I wonder if AI could solve some of the issues we’ve been chasing lately,” keep in mind that for right now, AI usually means custom software development. (That’s something that hopefully this initiative will fix – and then AI solutions will be more accessible to everyone!)

If you’re thinking you might want to explore any new project for your organization – data analysis, business intelligence, customer portals, mobile apps, custom software development, and even AI – the best way to find the right tech partner for you is with the right request-for-proposal. And for some killer ideas about how to make your RFP attract the right talent while accurately reflecting the scope of your project, download this free whitepaper about best practices for a winning RFP.