Trump's order to prioritise AI lacks funding specifics

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the US administration to give greater priority to artificial intelligence (AI), 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."

Mr Trump's order however stops short of specific funding or a detailed strategy for deployment of artificial intelligence.

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".

Still, the move comes amid growing concerns that China will overtake the United States in key areas of AI, 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".

Mr Darrell West, head of the Brookings Institution's Centre 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," he said.

"China is investing US$150 billion (S$204 billion) by 2030 with the goal of becoming the pre-eminent AI country in the world. It is important for the US to keep pace because AI will transform many different sectors."

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, 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."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'Trump's order to prioritise AI lacks funding specifics'. Print Edition | Subscribe