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White House launches AI Initiative Office

Office will serve as a hub for federal AI activities

The US government has created a National AI Initiative Office just days before the current administration ends, as directed by provisions in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act.

The new office, created by the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OTSP), will be a central point of contact for federal artificial intelligence (AI) activities. It will oversee the national AI initiative that the White House launched last February under President Trump’s executive order.

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The AI strategy laid down several key objectives for the government. It would open access to federal data and computing resources for AI research and development, creating a National AI Research Resource to channel those computing resources and data sets. That would support a federal data strategy published by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2021.

Other aspects of the national AI initiative that the National AI Initiative Office will support include guidance around AI governance. Some of its guidance would include a strategy to develop an AI risk-assessment framework at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the promotion of trustworthy AI in government services. 

The AI initiative specifically called for organizations to consider privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties when implementing AI.

The Office will foster US workers’ AI training, reinforcing a plan under which all federal agencies will prioritize AI-related apprenticeships and job training initiatives. The national AI initiative also calls for the government to work with other countries on open markets and innovation networks to support AI research and commercialization.

The National Artificial Intelligence Act of 2020, which Congress passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021, mandated the new organization. That bill had trouble passing following a Presidential veto over its failure to address Section 230, but the Senate overruled that veto in January.

One key part of the government's AI strategy is research funding, and the National AI Initiative Office will promote federal R&D investment in partnership with industry and academia. The government's 2021 budget proposal called for a doubling of AI R&D funding. 

An August 2020 report from the Bipartisan Policy Center suggested this should be the beginning of an even more dramatic increase in federal funding for AI research, noting the US had requested just under $1 billion in non-defense AI R&D funding in its 2020 budget. This is smaller than the AI R&D budget for some Chinese cities, it noted.

"Congress and the White House should adopt the NSCAI [National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence] and White House recommendations to double AI R&D spending immediately, and further commit to boosting total yearly federal AI R&D spending to $25 billion by FY2025," the report said.

In general, the US share of global R&D (including all areas, not just AI) had fallen from 69% in 2015 to just 28% in 2016. From 2000 to 2015, the US accounted for 19% of global R&D growth, but China accounted for 31%, the report warned.

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