Today, President Trump signed an Executive Order (“EO”), “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence,” that launches a coordinated federal government strategy for Artificial Intelligence (the “AI Initiative”).  Among other things, the AI Initiative aims to solidify American leadership in AI by empowering federal agencies to drive breakthroughs in AI research and development (“R&D”) (including by making data computing resources available to the AI research community), to establish technological standards to support reliable and trustworthy systems that use AI, to provide guidance with respect to regulatory approaches, and to address issues related to the AI workforce.  The Administration’s EO is the latest of at least 18 other countries’ national AI strategies, and signals that investment in artificial intelligence will continue to escalate in the near future—as will deliberations with respect to how AI-based technologies should be governed.

Overview: The American AI Initiative

In order to “sustain and enhance the scientific, technological, and economic leadership position of the United States in AI R&D and deployment,” the EO directs the National Science and Technology Council (“NSTC”) Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence (the “Select Committee”) to coordinate a federal government AI strategy guided by five pillars:

  • Research and Development: The U.S. must drive technological breakthroughs in AI across the federal government, industry, and academia;
  • Standards and Resources: The U.S. must drive development of technical standards and reduce barriers to the safe testing and deployment of AI technologies;
  • Workforce: The U.S. must train current and future generations of American workers with the skills to develop and apply AI technologies;
  • Governance: The U.S. must foster public trust and confidence in AI technologies and protect civil liberties, privacy, and American values in their application; and
  • International Engagement: The U.S. must promote an international environment that supports American AI research and innovation and opens markets for American AI industries, while protecting the United States’ technological advantage in AI.

Prioritization of Federal Investment in AI R&D

Although the EO does not provide any additional funding to the AI Initiative, the EO does direct agencies that perform or fund R&D to prioritize AI in developing their budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2020 and beyond, and to consider administrative actions that can increase AI spending in 2019.  The EO also directs relevant agencies to explore opportunities for collaboration with non-Federal entities, including the private sector, so that “all collaborators can benefit from each other’s investment and expertise in AI R&D.”

Access to Federal Data and the Use of Cloud Computing Resources

Importantly, the EO recognizes that significant, reliable data sources are critical to ensuring the development and success of AI technologies.  Specifically, as explained by Michael Kratsios, Deputy Assistant to the President for Technology Policy, the EO will increase access to federal data resources by “identifying high-priority federal data and models, improving public access to and the quality of federal AI data, and allocating high-performance and cloud computing resources to AI-related applications and R&D.” The government’s efforts to improve the “quality, usability, and appropriate access to priority data” must be made in accordance with the Administration’s prior “Cross-Agency Priority Goal: Leveraging Federal Data as a Strategic Asset” as described in the President’s Management Agenda of March 2018.

At the same time, the EO emphasizes that agencies should identify and consider any barriers to, or requirements associated with, increased access to such data, including privacy and civil liberties protections and safety and security concerns.

New Guidance for Regulations of AI Applications

The EO details several initiatives to promote public trust in the development and use of AI applications while fostering innovation. Specifically, the EO directs the OMB Director, in coordination with other key stakeholders, to issue within six months a memorandum for all agencies that will:

  • Inform the development of regulatory and non‑regulatory approaches regarding technologies and industrial sectors that are either empowered or enabled by AI; and
  • Consider ways to reduce barriers to the use of AI technologies in order to promote their innovative application.

In addition, the EO directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) to issue a plan for developing “technical standards and related tools in support of reliable, robust, and trustworthy systems that use AI technologies.”  The plan is meant to identify opportunities and challenges with respect to establishing U.S. leadership in the AI standards development space.

AI and American Workforce

The EO requires federal agencies that provide education funding to prioritize AI-related programs within existing federal fellowship and service programs.  In addition, the Select Committee is required to confer with the NSTC Committee on STEM Education and provide technical expertise to the National Council for the American Worker with respect to AI-related education and workforce development considerations.

Protection of America’s Advantage in AI Technologies

Referring to a new National Security Presidential Memorandum (“NSPM”) dated February 11, 2019 (“Protecting the United States Advantage in Artificial Intelligence and Related Critical Technologies”) (the “NSPM”), the EO directs the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs to facilitate an “action plan” that will “protect the United States’ advantage in AI and AI technology critical to United States economic and national security interests against strategic competitors and adversarial nations.”  This plan may be classified, in full or in part, and will be implemented by all agencies that receive the NSPM.

Next Steps

The EO is the latest, and most significant, step that the Administration has taken to make AI a priority from both an economic and a national security perspective—and federal agencies already are moving forward with implementation.  On the same day as the EO’s signing, for example, Pentagon Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy announced that the military will unveil a new strategy for using AI on February 12th.

The EO provides opportunities for interested stakeholders to provide input with respect to its various components. In particular, opportunities will be made available in the following areas:

  • Data Access: Within 90 days, the OMB Director will publish a notice in the Federal Register soliciting requests regarding “access or quality improvements for Federal data and models that would improve AI R&D and testing;”
  • Governance: Within 180 days, OMB is scheduled to issue the memorandum regarding the development of regulatory and non-regulatory approaches with respect to AI. At some (unspecified) point before that, OMB is required to solicit public comment on a draft of the memorandum; and
  • Technical Standards: NIST is required to consult, as needed, with the private sector, academia, non-government entities, and other stakeholders regarding the agency’s plan for the development of technical standards for AI technologies.