2. The unanswered questions in America’s AI strategy
Three years since the White House first publicly considered the U.S. government's role as a shepherd of artificial intelligence research, pivotal unanswered questions are still holding back a coherent strategy for boosting the critical technology at home, Kaveh writes.
Why it matters: China's authoritarian system, largely untroubled by deliberative holdups, has been pouring money into its AI sector.
The big questions around U.S. AI policy largely revolve around competition with adversaries — which for now, yes, mostly means China.
- How much should Western companies and researchers work with foreign counterparts who may be using AI for domestic repression or in weapons?
- Should some foreign students and scholars be excluded from study or work in the U.S.?
- Should U.S. tech companies develop software for the Pentagon, in the style of China's mandatory civil-military cooperation?
- How autonomous should the U.S. military's future weapons be — given that China is already selling purportedly autonomous machine gun-toting drones abroad?
Driving the news: In a report released Monday, the National Security Commission on AI — a group Congress convened to offer recommendations — tried to arrive at a consensus, but agreement was elusive.
"These are all questions where I don't think there are clear answers, and where a lot of the passions and perspectives can become quite polarized," says Elsa Kania, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
What's happening: "If you look at what is being said, we continue to hear the right things," says William Carter, deputy director of the technology policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But if you look at what is being done, it's not a hell of a lot."
- A focus on bashing China has helped eclipse the drive for policies to bolster the U.S. AI ecosystem with money and clear regulations.
- "Being mean to China is an easy political sell for both parties right now," Carter says.
The big picture: That trend was obvious yesterday at a conference put on by the National Security Commission on AI, which assembled top Pentagon officials and Silicon Valley dignitaries. China was on every tongue.
- But it's not the only game in town. "We shouldn't only think about what China is doing," Marjory Blumenthal, senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and former tech adviser to President Obama, tells Axios. In the future, smaller countries or non-state actors could cause havoc with increasingly accessible AI.
Go deeper: AI is getting caught up in politics