Trump Signs Executive Order Launching U.S. AI Initiative

By John Russell

February 11, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) today launching a U.S Artificial Intelligence Initiative. The new initiative – Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence – follows comments Trump made regarding the importance of AI in his state of the union speech last week and broadly spells out six objectives (below) spanning technology development and marketplace issues.

Funding details were not disclosed but governance by a National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence was established – “Actions shall be implemented by agencies that conduct foundational AI R&D, develop and deploy applications of AI technologies, provide educational grants, and regulate and provide guidance for applications of AI technologies, as determined by the co-chairs of the NSTC Select Committee.”

The six objectives as excerpted from the EO are:

  • Promote sustained investment in AI R&D in collaboration with industry, academia, international partners and allies, and other non-Federal entities to generate technological breakthroughs in AI and related technologies and to rapidly transition those breakthroughs into capabilities that contribute to our economic and national security.
  • Enhance access to high-quality and fully traceable Federal data, models, and computing resources to increase the value of such resources for AI R&D, while maintaining safety, security, privacy, and confidentiality protections consistent with applicable laws and policies.
  • Reduce barriers to the use of AI technologies to promote their innovative application while protecting American technology, economic and national security, civil liberties, privacy, and values.
  • Ensure that technical standards minimize vulnerability to attacks from malicious actors and reflect Federal priorities for innovation, public trust, and public confidence in systems that use AI technologies; and develop international standards to promote and protect those priorities.
  • Train the next generation of American AI researchers and users through apprenticeships; skills programs; and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), with an emphasis on computer science, to ensure that American workers, including Federal workers, are capable of taking full advantage of the opportunities of AI.
  • Develop and implement an action plan, in accordance with the National Security Presidential Memorandum of February 11, 2019 (Protecting the United States Advantage in Artificial Intelligence and Related Critical Technologies) (the NSPM) to protect the advantage of the United States in AI and technology critical to United States economic and national security interests against strategic competitors and foreign adversaries.

AI writ large has burst onto the technology and social scenes with sudden vigor even if some of the technologies have been percolating for decades. Many observers believe AI will eventually be transformative. Deep learning, a subset of AI, has already begun to be combined with traditional HPC modeling & simulation in ways that dramatically speed time-to-solution and permit tackling more massive datasets. The vendor embrace of AI had been palpable. Just last week IBM announced a $2B AI investment (See HPCwire article, IBM Bets $2B Seeking 1000X AI Hardware Performance Boost).

Steve Conway, senior research VP of Hyperion Research, offered an enthusiastic assessment, “The executive order recognizes not just AI’s potential for transforming America’s national security, the economy and society at large, along with the danger of falling behind other countries in AI technology. It also appears to recognize the importance of establishing national standards for things such as legal liability for automated driving accidents, rigorous testing to grow consumer trust in AI, and workforce development to overcome the growing shortage of skilled AI professionals.”

For sure, AI is hot. Turning the heat into practical reality is the challenge.

It’s worth noting the current administration, with bipartisan support, has by and large backed and funded leading edge computing technology development and often positioned those efforts as necessary elements in a global race for advanced technology advantage. Late last year, for example, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law a 10-year U.S. Quantum Initiative which spelled out $1.2 billion in funding for five years.

It will be interesting to see how broadly supported the AI initiative is. NSF quickly issued a statement lauding the new initiative: “Advances in AI are crucial for the U.S. science and engineering enterprise, and nearly all sectors of our 21stcentury economy. Many of the transformative uses of AI that we are witnessing today are founded in federal government investments in fundamental AI research that reach back over decades. Building the foundations of tomorrow’s AI innovations will require new interdisciplinary collaborations, resources, and strategic vision…”

As always with such large initiatives, the devil is in the details and there is a fair amount contained in the text of the EO. For example, there are timetables for various pieces of the initiative spelled out in the EO including instructions to heads of affected agencies to begin adjusting their budget requirements now. No specific funding numbers are mentioned. (There is also a brief summary posted on the Office of Science and Technology Policy website.)

Under the section entitled ‘Data and Computing Resources for AI Research and Development’ there are strong statements regarding resource allocation. Here are two examples:

  • “(b) The Secretaries of Defense, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Energy, the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Director of the National Science Foundation shall, to the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law, prioritize the allocation of high-performance computing resources for AI-related applications through: (i) increased assignment of discretionary allocation of resources and resource reserves; or (ii) any other appropriate mechanisms.
  • (c) Within 180 days of the date of this order, the Select Committee, in coordination with the General Services Administration (GSA), shall submit a report to the President making recommendations on better enabling the use of cloud computing resources for federally funded AI R&D.”

Leaders of implementing agencies are instructed to aggressively approach AI workforce development by providing “educational grants” and other measures and including preference for American citizens where permitted. Programs cited include:

  • high school, undergraduate, and graduate fellowship; alternative education; and training programs;
  • programs to recognize and fund early-career university faculty who conduct AI R&D, including through Presidential awards and recognitions;
  • scholarship for service programs;
  • direct commissioning programs of the United States Armed Forces; and
  • programs that support the development of instructional programs and curricula that encourage the integration of AI technologies into courses in order to facilitate personalized and adaptive learning experiences for formal and informal education and training.

As noted there’s a fair amount to digest in the executive order; no doubt more will become clear as the community has a chance to review its provisions and expectations.

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