Earlier this year, the Trump Administration announced a federal government initiative on artificial intelligence (AI) with a presidential executive order, “Maintaining American Leadership on Artificial Intelligence.”
Not surprisingly, coming from the White House, the initiative focuses on federal funding for AI and prioritizing AI in federal spending and management. While the details are still sparse, the overall focus on AI is not a bad idea. But too much government involvement could cause more problems than it solves.
AI is broadly defined as the development of computer systems to simulate intelligent human behavior. That means systems that can make decisions, translate languages or pick up on visual or speech cues.
Wide deployment of AI will spur new industries creating whole new careers and jobs in health, transportation, finance, law and more. As AI becomes increasingly infused in the way we work, it will increase productivity, resulting in economic growth and higher standards of living. Menial tasks will be replaced with creativity, deep thinking and more skilled labor.
The executive order focuses on directing federal agencies to prioritize AI investments in their research and development missions, including making data, models and computing resources more available to AI researchers and experts.
Also, federal agencies are to “establish guidance” for the development and use of AI across a variety of industries. A further focus is to prepare the workforce for a world infused with AI by asking agencies to give priority to training programs and fellowships in science, technology, engineering and math.
Finally, and importantly, agencies are directed to protect the U.S. AI advantage from foreign strategic competitors and outright adversaries.
It is important that the government be transparent about an ethical framework to govern AI, especially when used in defense and law enforcement. Also, pushing taxpayer-funded research runs against the idea of limited government.
As has been seen in communications spectrum allocations, specifically in the 5.9 and 24GHz bands, government-allocated technology assets never seem to leave government control, even when being wasted or otherwise not used for the benefit of U.S. citizens. This industrial policy is odious to a free market, and is why stopping short of funding was the right decision by the administration.
Most importantly, not pursuing prophylactic regulation is the right choice. The technology must be allowed to grow and not be regulated to death.
China is already making quick advances in machine learning. The global race to lead in this important technology is similar to the race to lead in 5G communications technologies.
As in 5G, the Chinese government is investing directly in the industry. This has led some to argue that U.S. taxpayers should be burdened with more taxes to pay for similar industrial policy. But American free market creativity, innovation and competitiveness have always proven to outperform government-directed industrial policy.
With a dynamic, free-market system, the U.S. can lead the world without resorting to China’s practices of nationalizing industries and engaging in top-down industrial policy.