Photo: Getty Images

The Trump administration wants to double federal spending on R&D for artificial intelligence and quantum computing over the next two years.

Why it matters: AI and quantum computing have the potential to upend everything from labor markets to civil liberties to encryption, and some policymakers and industry players say American leadership is needed on both fronts to stave off economic and technological threats from other countries, particularly China.

Details: The White House on Monday released its AI and quantum R&D funding targets in connection with its budget request to Congress for fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1.

  • President Trump is asking for a ramp-up in nondefense AI research funding across the Energy and Agriculture departments, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. The White House wants the total to hit or exceed $2 billion by fiscal 2022, up from an ask of $1 billion for fiscal 2020.
  • Trump is also asking for $860 million by fiscal 2022 in quantum R&D funding, primarily for the Energy Department and National Science Foundation, part of which would go toward working to develop a new "quantum internet." That's double the fiscal 2020 request.

'What they're saying:

  • An aggressive federal funding increase would make the U.S. "more prosperous, resilient, healthy and also safe," Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, said on a press call Monday.
  • "If we don't, others will do it," Paul Dabbar, the Energy Department's undersecretary for science, said on the same call. "The United States is faced with fierce international competition in quantum information science."

Yes, but: White House budgets are just wish lists, and it's not clear if Congress will have the appetite to ramp up this spending at a time when Republicans are looking to trim budgets.

  • It's not even clear if Congress has matched the administration's past requests on AI and quantum spending. Until recently, the government wasn't tracking how the dollars appropriated to various relevant agencies translate to direct spending on R&D in those areas.
  • The White House should have its tabulations of actual enacted quantum and AI budget numbers available by this summer, U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios said on the call.

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