White House touts ‘historic action’ on agencies building momentum with AI

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A year after President Donald Trump signed an executive order making artificial intelligence a top priority for federal research, agencies on the front lines of this effort have reported significant progress.

The Trump administration released a report Wednesday highlighting both the White House’s rollout of AI policy, as well as the specific measures that agencies have stood up to stay on the cutting edge of this emerging technology

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U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios said in a statement that the administration has taken “historic action” over the past year as part of the American AI Initiative launched under the executive order.

“Our nation remains committed to supporting the development and application of AI innovation that promotes public trust, protects civil liberties, and helps all Americans live healthier and more prosperous lives,” Kratsios said.

The report highlighted the president’s fiscal 2021 budget released earlier this month that would give non-defense federal agencies $2 billion to fund for AI research and development, which is about double current spending levels.

Increased funding for federal AI research, however, would come at the sacrifice of spending on other areas of research. The Trump budget request proposes cutting total federal R&D spending by nearly $13.8 billion, a 9% cut from estimated FY 2020 spending levels.

Meanwhile, the White House expects to release a budget supplement this summer that will provide what Kratsios called a “definitive cross-cut” of how agencies would split that increase in AI R&D funding.

Agencies over the past year have taken significant steps to build up their capacity to advance AI research.

On Monday, the Defense Department, the leading federal supporter of AI research, adopted the five principles for the ethical use of AI that private-sector tech experts on its Defense Innovation Board outlined back in October.

DIB Chair Eric Schmidt, the former Google and Alphabet CEO, back in October described a key tenet of the principles as keeping “a human in the loop” of AI-powered decisions.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department, one of the top three funders of AI research in civilian government, swore in former 3M executive Cheryl Ingstad as its first director of the AI and Technology Office earlier this month. The agency created the office last September.

“DOE and its 17 national labs are uniquely positioned – and already hard at work – to lead in AI’s application to our core missions,” Ingstad in a statement. “I look forward to working alongside America’s best and brightest minds to ensure our efforts are focused on accelerating the wise adoption of this emerging technology.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this month also released an emerging science and technology strategy that looks at using AI to reduce to cost of its data processing and provide “more timely scientific products and services for societal benefits.”

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The White House in January also released what Kratsios called a “first of its kind” set of 10 principles that agencies must comply with when setting regulations for the private sector’s use of AI technology.

Cameron Chehreh, the chief technology officer of Dell Technologies Federal, told Federal News Network that the AI principles set by the Trump administration have given industry a framework for ethical use.

“It’s really important for all of us to understand that when the government goes to implement these types of intrinsic, embedded technologies that we as citizens feel comfortable and confident that they’re being applied in the most positive of ways, to really improve the quality of services offered to us,” Chehreh said.

To scale up AI in government, the General Services Administration and Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent stood up a governmentwide AI Community of Practice last November. Since then, membership has grown to more than 400 members from 26 agencies.

The White House also created a Select Committee on AI in May 2018 comprised of all the agency heads that have led federal AI R&D.

Chehreh said these partnerships have helped agencies build on lessons learned while moving forward with new use cases for AI.

“You can make sure that people are focused on solving new and interesting problems, but not doing it in siloes or vacuums, but rather creating this broad community that is collaborating across this common topic of artificial intelligence,” he said. “It’s allowing better coordination, which increases the quality of how the money is invested.”

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