Trump’s Artificial Intelligence Initiative Needs to Show Us the Money

February 11, 2019, 9:58 PM UTC

President Donald Trump’s executive order executive order on Monday that is intended to cement U.S. leadership in artificial intelligence technologies lacks specifics about how much the U.S. plans to invest in automation and its effects on American workers.

At a high level, the “American Artificial Intelligence Initiative” is similar to the administration’s previous statements about how the federal government should prioritize spending on AI initiatives, ensure that U.S. workers are trained in computer science, and that guidelines are created to ensure that AI technologies are used ethically and safely.

A crucial detail that appears missing for now, however, is how much money the Trump administration plans to spend on the initiative. Instead, it calls for federal agencies that are already focusing on AI-related research and development to “budget an amount for AI R&D that is appropriate for this prioritization,” according to the executive order.

The White House said more information about the initiative would be revealed over the next six months, according to media reports.

The AI plan notably differs in its lack of financial details from those of other countries that have disclosed their own data crunching initiatives.

In 2017, China said it aims to establish a $150 billion AI industry by 2030, with one local government near Beijing establishing a $5 billion fund to kick-start the effort. France said in March 2018 that it would invest nearly $1.85 billion into AI technologies by 2022, followed a month later by United Kingdom disclosing plans for a $1.3 billion investment in AI tech over a multi-year period.

Tae Wan Kim, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who specializes in AI and business ethics, talked to Fortune about the initiative’s lack of funding details. AI researchers, he said, typically look for specific funding in government AI proposals because it signals whether research grants may become available.

Additionally, Kim hoped that the White House would have specified how it intended to use any funding to focus on automation technologies and their impact on jobs. Many AI funding proposals focus on developing AI technologies rather than on projects that address how displaced low-wage workers could be retrained, he explained.

“I’m not 100% negative, but I want to see some practical, at least high-level plans,” Kim said. “There’s not much information about how to address the trade off between AI powered [technology] and unemployment.”

The executive order mentions that federal agencies that “provide educational grants” should “consider AI as a priority area within existing Federal fellowship and service programs,” but it doesn’t address specific investments.

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Daniel Castro, the director of policy group Center for Data Innovation, said in a statement that his organization “Welcomed the White House executive order” and that it “will help the United States keep pace with China’s progress.”

But Castro said that the administration “should ask Congress for significant funding increases to expand these research efforts.”

“However, if the administration wants its AI initiative to be transformative, it will need to do more than reprogram existing funds for AI research, skill development, and infrastructure development,” Castro said.

In May, the White House said it would create a new artificial intelligence task force made up of government officials, academic, and employees of companies like Google and Microsoft. One of task force’s goals was to work on how the U.S. prioritizes its investment in AI technologies, something that Nvidia executive Ian Buck called for at the outset.

“There’s simply no replacement for the federal government significantly increasing support for fundamental research to bolster university research,” Buck said in a statement at the time. “Funding drives research. Research, in turn, drives innovation, from startups to multinationals.”

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