INFOTECH

BREAKING: AI Commission Recommends Billions in New Spending

3/1/2021
By Yasmin Tadjdeh

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The United States must inject billions of dollars into artificial intelligence research if the nation wants to be “AI-ready” by 2025 and successfully compete with China, according to a report by the National Security Commission on AI.

The commission — which was established under the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to research ways to advance the development of AI for national security and defense purposes — released its final report to Congress March 1 after two years of work.

“To win in AI, we need more money, more talent [and] stronger leadership,” said Chairman Eric Schmidt, the former head of Google’s parent company Alphabet.

“Collectively, we as a commission believe this is a national security priority and that the steps that are outlined in the report represent not just our consensus, but also a distillation of hundreds and hundreds of experts in policy and technology and ethics.”

The sprawling report — which is more than 700 pages long — features recommendations to the Biden administration and Congress that will require sweeping changes to better posture the nation for competition with other AI-enabled nations, such as China and Russia.

Artificial intelligence will impact the United States profoundly in the coming years, but despite some “exciting experimentation” and a few small programs, “the U.S. government is a long way from being ‘AI-ready,’” according to the report. The Defense Department and intelligence community must reach that benchmark by 2025, the commissioners said.

Reaching that goal will require the government to create a Technology Competitiveness Council akin to the National Security Council, said Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense who served in the Obama administration.

“The U.S. has no mechanism to organize for a tech competition,” he said. “Now for other areas, we built structures for priorities — we built the National Security Council at the end of World War II to manage a long-term competition with the Soviet Union, and we established the National Economic Council at the end of the Cold War.

“We need the same type of approach at the White House level by establishing the Technology Competitiveness Council, [which] we believe should be chaired by the vice president and includes all the cabinet secretaries to develop and oversee a strategic national approach to emerging technologies like AI,” he added during a public meeting of the commission to unveil and vote on the report before transmitting it to the Biden administration and Capitol Hill.

The government will also need to make major investments in research to spur domestic AI innovation, Schmidt said. “We do need more money, particularly in AI R&D, so that by 2026 we get to $32 billion per year,” he said.

Schmidt has previously said that China is rapidly catching up to the United States in AI, noting that the nation is a year or two ahead of Beijing.

During the meeting, Schmidt said that while “the activities that we describe in the report are necessary to stay ahead, it's not at all obvious to me that they will allow us to get significantly ahead. … [China has] a massive investment in this area with many, many, many smart people working on it. We have every reason to think that the competition with China will increase.”

The commission’s report is split into two parts: “Defending America in the AI Era” and “Winning the Technology Competition.”

The first “focuses on implications and applications for AI for defense and national security,” Schmidt said. The second “recommends actions that the government must take to promote AI innovation to improve national competitiveness and protect critical U.S. advantages in the bigger strategic competition with China.”

The report features four pillars of actions including leadership, talent, hardware and innovation.

“If I've learned anything in studying the way the government works, leadership — especially from the top — is critical to get the bureaucracy to move to the next challenge and the next opportunity,” Schmidt said. “We're proposing the setting up of a Technology Competitiveness Council at the White House, and the DoD and the [intelligence community] should be organized as well for this competition.”

Meanwhile, there is a “huge talent deficient” in the government, he said. “We need to build new talent and expand existing programs in government. And we need the world's best to come and stay to cultivate homegrown talent.”

When it comes to hardware, it is critical the nation stays ahead, he said. However, it is very close to losing its edge when it comes to microelectronics — which underpin some of the Defense Department’s key capabilities including artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing and space systems — because of the United States’ reliance on Taiwan.

“We need to revitalize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and ensure that we're two generations ahead of China,” he said.

Work noted that the United States is “110 miles away” from a major semiconductor issue. If “China absorbed Taiwan — which is the source of many of the world's hardware — that would really be a competitive problem for us,” he said.

The fourth pillar is innovation, Schmidt said.

“AI research is going to be incredibly expensive,” he said. “We need the government to help set up the conditions for accessible domestic AI innovation.”

The commission pursued the creation of its report with a great sense of urgency, Work said. Each of the 15 commissioners believe that AI-enabled threats are going to be a looming threat to free and open societies in the future.

“AI tools will be weapons of first resort, particularly between great powers,” he said. “Cyberattacks and disinformation will be accelerated by AI. We don't believe there's any debate over this point.”

The U.S. armed services’ competitive military technical advantage could be lost within the next decade if the nation does not accelerate the adoption of AI and other advanced technologies across its missions, Work said.

“Our major military rivals are really all in on military AI applications,” he said. “Defending against AI-capable adversaries without employing AI as an invitation to disaster. AI-enabled applications will operate at machine speeds and humans simply will not be able to keep up with them without help from their own algorithms and their own AI.”

Commissioner Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle Corp., said the commission’s report is meant to be a wake-up call for the government.

“There are some very, very bold actions we're asking for,” she said. “They're asking in many cases for us to break out from our historical silos and work together. This is pretty much the critical moment for our country and the investment that's necessary.”

One key recommendation of the report is to scale up digital talent in the government. This includes establishing new talent pipelines, including a U.S. Digital Service Academy to train current and future employees, the report said. The commissioners also called for a civilian National Digital Reserve Corps to recruit skilled employees including industry experts, academics and college graduates. There also need to be a Digital Corps, which would be modeled on the Army Medical Corps.

There is currently a great deal of support from Congress to stand up a Digital Service Academy, Work said.

“That is something we can do right away,” he said. "It will take maybe a year to stand up but that will help us get ‘AI-ready’ by 2025.”


Topics: Robotics and Autonomous Systems

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