Key Takeaways for Executives
- President Donald Trump’s new EO sets out roadmap for boosting agencies’ use of AI.
- Continued American AI leadership is critical for economic and national security, it says.
- Order calls for concrete steps like more R&D and better access to government data.
A new executive order calls for the federal government to step up its promotion of U.S. artificial intelligence capabilities in the face of competition from foreign adversaries.
“Continued American leadership in AI is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States and to shaping the global evolution of AI in a manner consistent with our Nation’s values, policies, and priorities,” says the EO, which Trump recently signed.
The EO says maintaining U.S. leadership in AI will require a “concerted effort” to promote new technologies while protecting American economic interests and civil liberties. The U.S. must drive AI technological breakthroughs and standards across the federal government, industry and academia, train American workers to use AI, foster public trust in AI applications and open international markets for American AI industries.
Balan Ayyar, CEO of Percipient.ai, called the EO “long overdue but exciting,” and said it effectively sets out the underlying justification for a greater government role in AI.
“We have to learn faster” how to use AI to protect national security, he told WashingtonExec. “We have to get the foundation right to ensure that the government is doing what’s necessary to embrace these technologies.”
The EO is “the beginning of a real Renaissance in government AI innovation,” Ayyar added.
AI will affect the missions of nearly all executive departments and agencies. As a result, the EO calls for governmentwide implementation of six “strategic objectives” to advance U.S. interests in the field. These include:
- Promoting and sustaining investment in AI R&D in collaboration with industry, academia and international partners and allies;
- Enhancing access to high-quality a fully traceable federal data, models and computing resources to increase the value of these resources for AI R&D;
- Reducing barriers to the use of AI technologies while protecting American national security and values;
- Ensuring technical standards minimize vulnerability to attacks and reflect federal priorities for innovation, public trust and public confidence in systems that use AI technologies, while developing international standards to promote those priorities;
- Training the next generation of U.S. AI researchers and users through apprenticeships, skills programs and STEM education; and
- Developing and implementing a plan to protect the current U.S. advantage in AI.
Although all of these steps are important, Ayyar said one of the most critical is providing better access to unclassified government data that developers can use to create new sets of AI capabilities.
Combining disparate data sets can be especially powerful. For example, census data, Federal Emergency Management Agency data on natural disaster responses and National Weather Service data could be used collectively to better determine the impacts of future weather events and how best to deploy limited resources to mitigate them.
The EO asks the Office of Management and Budget to issue agency guidance on how to properly regulate AI industries and technologies. The government’s overall AI initiative will be coordinated through the National Science and Technology Council Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence.
Brookings Institute Weighs in
The Brookings Institute said in comments on its website that until now, the private sector has driven most U.S. progress in AI. According to Brookings, that needs to change, and the EO is a good start.
“There is considerable concern the U.S. federal government is not doing enough to support AI research and deployment,” it said, citing relatively low government investment in nonclassified AI technology compared to adversaries like China.
Brookings welcomed the EO’s calls to increase access to federal data, provide more money for R&D and improve digital infrastructures and workforce development.
“These are noble goals where the United States needs to do better,” it said.
Brookings said better access to government data would strengthen the training of AI algorithms and help software deal with incomplete or misleading information. It also said faster broadband, mobile networks with better coverage and faster computers are all essential for taking full advantage of new AI technologies.
But it warned major new initiatives like the AI policy outlined in the EO need follow-through to bear fruit. The EO isn’t clear exactly how much the government is currently spending on AI or how it is implementing these technologies, it said.
“It is one thing to call for inter-agency cooperation and coordination, and another to develop effective mechanisms that do that,” Brookings said. “Agencies need to coordinate, but they have incentives to pursue their own vision, not that of the White House or Office of Management and Budget.”
In this regard, the organization praised the Defense Department for already announcing an AI implementation plan, including establishing a new AI center, hiring experts to staff it and budgeting money for deployment. But it said DOD is “far ahead” of many federal domestic agencies when it comes to AI.