AI Race Part 1 of 4: US' Decentralized Strategy

Elias Kruger

Uncle Sam sits in a paradoxical position in the global AI race. While the undisputed leader, having an advantage in patents and having an established ecosystem for research development, the country lacks a clear plan from the government. This was not always the case.

In 2016, the Obama administration was one of the first to spell out principles to ensure public investment in the technology. The plan recognized that the private sector would lead innovation, yet it aimed at establishing a role for the government to steward the development and application of AI. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, this plan is now uncertain. No decision has been announced on the matter so it is difficult to say what role the government will play in the future development of AI in the United States. So far, the new administration has only put out a skim fact sheet describing actions on this area but no coordinated strategy to date. While the current administration has kept investment levels untouched, there is no resolution on a future direction.

Given that many breakthroughs are happening in large American corporations like Google, Facebook and Microsoft - the US will undoubtedly play a role in the development of AI for years to come. However, a lack of government involvement could mean a lopsided focus on commercial applications. The danger in such a path is that common-good applications that do not yield a profit will be replaced by those that do. For example, the US could become the country that has the most advanced gadgets while the majority of its population do not have access to AI-enabled healthcare solutions.

Another downside for a corporate-focused AI strategy is that these large conglomerates are becoming less and less tied to their nation of origin. Their headquarters may still be in the US, but a lot of the work and even research is now starting to be done in other countries. Even for the offices in the country, the workforce is often foreign-born. We can discuss the merits and downsides of this development, but for a president that was elected to put "America first," his administration's disinterest in AI is quite ironic. This is even more pressing as other nations put together their strategies for harnessing the benefits and stewarding the dangers of AI.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1.Who do you trust more to set AI strategy: governments or corporations, and why?

Q2. What should be included in a clear plan for the US to compete in the AI race?

Q3. Who needs to be at the table in AI discussions for your country?