DC sounds alarm on artificial intelligence



February 21, 2019 - 10:08 AM

President Trump’s recently announced artificial intelligence initiative does not include the word “China.” But that country’s progress in the race to machine-learning supremacy has prompted calls for the United States to start running faster. Though Mr. Trump’s plan is light on actual planning, the Pentagon released its own report last week that provides more detail. Taken together, the documents are promising.

Mr. Trump’s order directs agencies to assess their spending, reprioritize existing funds toward artificial intelligence and consider that priority in their upcoming budget proposals. It also opens government data to researchers and the private sector. And it kick-starts a process for departments to consider how they might regulate machine-learning applications in their purview. Exactly how these things happen is up to agencies — but at least the president is asking them to start thinking, which so far few seem to have done. The Defense Department is an exception.

The need for increased AI investment in defense is urgent. Researchers see machine learning as the electricity of the 21st century, with the potential to transform life across sectors. But U.S. innovators are much more likely to set their sights on, say, crafting autonomous vehicles than they are on aiding the U.S. military. Google decided not to renew its contract with the Pentagon for AI used to analyze drone video last year when employees objected to involving themselves in “the business of war.”

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