White House emerging tech strategy sets sweeping goals to stay competitive

The Trump administration has released a sweeping strategy outlining steps the executive branch can take to promote and protect the country’s competitive advan...

The Trump administration has released a sweeping strategy outlining steps the executive branch can take to promote and protect the country’s competitive advantage on emerging technologies.

The White House issued its National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies on Thursday, setting out policy goals for fields that include artificial intelligence, quantum information science, and military and space technologies.

The strategy doesn’t set specific measures like some of President Donald Trump’s executive orders focused on AI and quantum science, but senior administration officials told reporters the strategy signals a new level of coordination among agencies.

Priority actions in the strategy include increasing the priority of federal R&D in annual appropriations, accelerating the adoption of emerging technology within agencies and recruiting a workforce with in-demand science and technology skills.

While the strategy recognizes the need for international partnerships, it stresses that these ties are rooted in “fairness, reciprocity, and faithful adherence to agreements.” The strategy takes issues with adversarial tactics including intellectual property theft and undermining scientific norms.

Officials described the strategy as an “overarching, broad umbrella framework” that can be used to drive individual strategies for particular technologies.

“It is not feasible for the United States to lead in all aspects of every technology area, and there is no single technology that will ensure worldwide [critical and emerging technology] leadership,” the strategy states. “In fact, many technology breakthroughs occur at the intersection of two or more disparate technologies. Therefore, a holistic approach is required to address the growing convergence of technologies for various applications.”

The White House announced in August that the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department would stand up 12 new research institutes for artificial intelligence and quantum information science research.

Once established, the agencies plan to award a billion dollars over the next five years to help private-sector and academic partners accelerate their research in these areas.

“It’s not something the federal government can do alone and these institutes are places where the federal government can partner with industry and academia to drive these next-generation discoveries,” a senior administration official said.

While the strategy recognizes that the private sector’s critical and emerging technology research spending has taken the lead compared to the federal government, the strategy recognizes that the government has the authority to set the “necessary conditions” for worldwide leadership in these fields.

Earlier this week the National Security Commission on AI recommended creating a Technology Competitiveness Council chaired by the vice president, but whose day-to-day operations would be led by an assistant to the vice president.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that the strategy builds off the Trump administration’s executive orders that launched the American AI Initiative and the National Quantum Initiatives, two fields where the administration has urged Congress to increase funding.

“The Trump Administration’s critical and emerging technologies strategy establishes priority actions to protect our national security innovation base and secure our technology advantage by strengthening rules where gaps exist, insisting that agreements be enforced, and working with like-minded allies and partners to promote, advance, and ensure the success of our common principles,” McEnany said.

The White House in its fiscal 2021 budget request stressed the need for a “significant increase” in research spending for artificial intelligence and quantum information science, and proposed doubling the amount of non-defense R&D spending in those areas by FY 2022.

Monday’s FY 2021 budget request from the White House, which outlines the administration’s federal spending priorities, follows two executive orders President Donald Trump signed last year making AI and quantum R&D top priorities for federal research agencies.

The Trump administration last year identified nearly a billion dollars of research and development spending for non-defense agencies as part of a supplement to the president’s FY 2020 budget request, nearly double what the government spent on this emerging technology three years ago.

Military spending on AI now approaches $1 billion, and in civilian government, the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department and the National Institutes of Health stand out as some of the top funders of AI research.

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