Trump orders government to prioritise artificial intelligence

US President Donald Trump ordered the US administration to give greater priority to artificial intelligence on Feb 12, 2019.
US President Donald Trump ordered the US administration to give greater priority to artificial intelligence on Feb 12, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - United States President Donald Trump on Monday (Feb 11) ordered the US administration to give greater priority to artificial intelligence, a move seen as firing up a battle for leadership with China.

The American AI Initiative executive order calls for the administration to "devote the full resources of the federal government" to help fuel AI innovation.

"Americans have profited tremendously from being the early developers and international leaders in AI," a White House statement said.

"However, as the pace of AI innovation increases around the world, we cannot sit idly by and presume that our leadership is guaranteed."

The order however stops short of specific funding or a detailed strategy for deployment of artificial intelligence.

The move comes amid growing concerns that China will overtake the US in key areas of artificial intelligence, helped by a broad national strategy and accelerating investment.

It also comes less than a week after Mr Trump's State of the Union address, when he said investments in "cutting edge industries of the future" are "a necessity."


The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy said in a statement during the speech on Feb 5 that AI was among the industries Mr Trump was referring to, alongside 5G broadband, advanced manufacturing and others

Mr Darrell West, head of the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation, said the White House move was "timely" but that it remained uncertain how it would be implemented without clear funding.

"The president sometimes launches initiatives that sound good but have little actual impact," Mr West said.

"China is investing US$150 billion (S$203.90 billion) by 2030 with the goal of becoming the preeminent AI country in the world. It is important for the US to keep pace because AI will transform many different sectors."

Mr Daniel Castro of the Center for Data Innovation, a think tank which follows technology issues, offered a similarly cautious response.

"If the administration wants its AI initiative to be transformative, it will need to do more than reprogramme existing funds for AI research, skill development, and infrastructure development."

Mr Castro welcomed the initiative but called for a more comprehensive AI strategy that covers areas such as digital free trade, data collection policies and other issues.

Senator Marco Rubio called the initiative a "good start," writing on Twitter: "China is the most comprehensive challenge we have faced from a near peer adversary in over half a century. Confronting it will require a comprehensive response."

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised some aspects of the order but criticised its tone.

"The tone of this executive order reflects a laissez-faire approach to AI development that I worry will have the US repeating the mistakes it has made in treating digital technologies as inherently positive forces, with insufficient consideration paid to their misapplication," he said.

The White House said the plan calls for "unleashing AI" by making more resources available to researchers, setting guidelines for regulations, promoting AI in education and improving US competitiveness.

The statement made no mention of China but called for "an action plan to protect the advantage of the US in AI and technology critical to US national and economic security interests against strategic competitors and foreign adversaries."