The American AI Initiative: A good first step, of many

The American AI Initiative: A good first step, of many

Mark Minevich

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The path to general AI — and possibly superintelligence — is being paved before our eyes. And with the proliferation of an AI-driven society, the social and economic value of such technology is also on the rise. In turn, harnessing and leveraging such technology needs to extend beyond the interests of venture capitalists, investment groups and entrepreneurs — and also be a priority on a geopolitical scale.

When the global economy starts to feel the shift ushered in with mass-adoption of AI, the United States needs to be leading the charge as opposed to chasing the pack.

If the U.S. is to compete on a global level, they’ll face an arms race of sorts from a litany of nations that are already doubling-down on the massive advantages that come with national AI proficiency. In fact, 18 different countries have launched national AI strategies, with government funding ranging from $20 million to almost $2 billion.

A first step in the right direction was taken by the Trump administration recently when the president signed an executive order launching the American AI Initiative. This policy will funnel federal funding and resources toward AI-specific research while also implementing U.S.-led international AI standards. Additionally, the program will call for new research into increasing AI literacy in American workers.

Unfortunately, there are no specifics around what exactly this new program actually looks like in practice, and there is no additional research being dedicated toward AI development. There are no timelines for implementation of these initiatives, only a vague goal of roughly six-ish months before a detailed plan is rolled out. Jason Furman, a Harvard professor who helped draft the Obama administration’s report on AI, said that the plan had “all the right elements” but was also “aspirational with no details and is not self-executing.”

How can the private sector build on what the federal government has put in place?

Yet, the importance of government involvement in AI R&D cannot be overstated. If we remain on the path we’re on, one where large technology companies and VC firms are funding the bulk of AI research, the country would only see pockets of growth around the largest technology companies and the regions of the country would continue to stagnate. We would not be able to work on major moonshot projects and collectively pool our resources for the greater good across all regions of the U.S. All innovations would be tightly controlled by technology companies and adoption rates would not move up and actually make a difference in the way we utilize AI. This would result in a marginal talent pool, and new developments would be those of technology innovators — not problem-solvers. Everything would be driven by its contribution to business and not its contribution to society at-large.

So, government involvement matters, yet the administration can’t be solely responsible for catalyzing the change needed by the American workforce — it falls on us as well. So that begs the question…

How can the private sector build on what the federal government has put in place?

The program focuses on five key pillars: Research and development, infrastructure, governance, workforce and international engagement. Like Furman said, those concepts are well and good, but they remain vague and still clearly undefined. But, even if the administration’s program isn’t hitting the ground running, that doesn’t mean that you and I can’t push the ball in the right direction. So, how can we as a workforce help execute on the program? What do we need to do to enact the ideals that the federal government is focused on in AI?

Focus on building AI-literacy in American workers

Until the American workforce itself is concerned with being AI-first, we will see challenges in implementation, adoption and deployment, and AI literacy will be largely confined to the areas in which it’s already being heavily used (automation, customer service, insights, engageme

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