Understandably, the newly appointed US president, Joe Biden, has not made any explicit announcements about the future of artificial intelligence (AI); he has had more pressing matters to attend to, such as curving an on-going pandemic, providing financial relief, and reversing a string of Trump-era policies.
The administration has, however, provided some early signs that suggest a stronger emphasis on emerging technologies such as AI. Discussion of the US approach to AI will be an integral part of the debate around how to increase adoption and get the most out of the technology, as highlighted in GlobalData’s Artificial Intelligence report.
Follow the money
The amount of funding allocated for non-military AI-related research by the Trump administration has been a sore point. In February last year, the White House said it would boost funding for AI and quantum computing from roughly $973 million to almost $2 billion annually by 2022. While not an insignificant amount, the amounts needed to produce cutting edge AI research is believed to be much higher.
The question then is, will the Biden administration be more likely to splash the cash on AI-related research? It appears so. During the summer, Biden announced his “Innovate in America” plan that commits $300 billion to non-military R&D and breakthrough technologies – which includes everything from investment in electric vehicle technologies to 5G and AI. In comparison, $142.2 billion was allocated to R&D as part of Trump’s proposed 2021 budget. While we will have to wait and see exactly how the new administration divvies its proposed R&D spend, it does appear that Biden will put a stronger emphasis on scientific progress.
Early Biden appointments paint a promising picture for AI
In January, President Biden elevated the post of science advisor to cabinet level, a White House first. The new director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), geneticist Eric Lander, will advise the president on science and technology issues and guide policies and budgets related to these areas. Perhaps a more interesting appointment is that of sociologist Alondra Nelson as OSTP deputy director, who studies the societal impacts of emerging technology, as well as racism in science.
In GlobalData’s latest AI report, regulation and bias were cited as two of the main trends that will impact the AI industry over the next couple of years. When it comes to AI (and tech in general) the US government has traditionally adopted a hands-off approach, encouraging self-regulation. Final guidance on the regulation of AI was issued towards the end of 2020 and made it clear that AI innovation and not regulatory protection was the priority of the Trump administration.
Taking a balanced approach will not be an easy task
The Biden administration is likely to govern AI and other emerging technologies with a stronger hand than the previous administration. The decision to involve scientific expertise in policy discussions is expected to result in a higher degree of AI oversight and a stronger focus on tech accountability pertinent to hot AI issues such as facial recognition, algorithmic bias, and data privacy.
While preventing AI from being used in harmful ways is likely to be high on the agenda, deciding on what approach to take will not be an easy task. One thing the new administration has in common with the previous one is that both see AI as an important geopolitical tool to retain American technological primacy over China.
There are early signs that the Biden administration’s approach to AI will be more measured rather than a focus on quick results. The early appointments suggest that the administration understands the importance of setting clear societal guidelines for AI. Increased funding and the strong focus on global competitiveness suggest that Biden will seek to enforce compliance of any guidelines rather than limit innovation by trying to remove bias from data.