US not prepared to compete in AI era: Experts

Illustration of automation and artificial intelligence (AI). ( Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

TAIPEI, Apr 4, 2021, Taiwan News. The U.S. is in danger of losing its technological edge in artificial intelligence to China over the next decade if serious steps are not taken to address the issue, according to a report by the National Security Commission on AI, Taiwan News reported.

The 15-member panel, comprised of technologists, national security professionals, business executives, and academics, released the 756-page report at the beginning of March. Some of the more notable members included commission Chair and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Oracle CEO Safra Catz, Google Cloud AI chief Andrew Moore, Microsoft Chief Scientific Officer Eric Horvitz, and Andy Jassy, Amazon’s next CEO.

In the coming years, AI will drastically influence many technologies. “America is not prepared to defend or compete in the AI era,” said Schmidt and Vice Chair Robert Work, former U.S. deputy secretary of defense. The report calls for the country to be AI-ready by 2025.

It includes dozens of recommendations for the American government that would require significant changes to put the country on better footing against rivals like Russia and, most notably, China, in terms of AI. “Our final report presents a strategy to defend against AI threats, responsibly employ AI for national security, and win the broader technology competition,” said Schmidt and Work.

During the online meeting of the commission, Schmidt said the report was divided into two sections. The first part — “Defending America in the AI Era” — centers on implications and uses for AI concerning defense and national security, while the second part — “Winning the Technology Competition” — suggests actions the government needs to take promote AI innovation in order to boost competitiveness and protect critical American advantages in the bigger strategic competition with China.

The report focuses on four pillars of action: leadership, talent, hardware, and innovation. In terms of leadership, it suggests creating a Technology Competitiveness Council, similar to the National Security Council, “to build a strategy that accounts for the complex security, economic, and scientific challenges of AI and its associated technologies.”

The “human talent deficit” is America’s single greatest inhibitor to “buying, building, and fielding AI-enabled technologies for national security purposes.” Schmidt said, “We need to build new talent and expand existing programs in government. And we need the world’s best to come and stay to cultivate homegrown talent.”

As for hardware, the commission points out that Taiwan now produces the world’s most advanced semiconductors, but over-reliance by the U.S. could be problematic if China were to invade the country of 24 million. The document recommends revitalizing domestic microchip manufacturing through federal investments and incentives.

Concerning innovation, Schmidt pointed out that AI research is going to be incredibly expensive, requiring the government to aid in setting up conditions for accessible domestic AI innovation.

One key suggestion the report made was to boost digital talent in the government by setting up new talent pipelines, including a U.S. Digital Service Academy to train current and future employees. The commission also recommended doubling AI research and development spending until 2026, when spending levels would reach US$32 billion a year.

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