White House tech adviser Michael Kratsios addresses scores of executives, experts and officials at a White House summit focusing on artificial intelligence in May 2018. (OSTP via Twitter) For months, the White House has been talking up artificial intelligence as one of America’s most important tech frontiers. Now we’re starting to see some of the dollar signs behind the talk. In newly released budget documents, the Trump administration says it wants to split $850 million in civilian federal spending on AI research and development between the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Energy Department. This is in addition to for AI and machine learning, including $208 million for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. Based on the agency-by-agency breakdowns, NSF would get the lion’s share of the $850 million — specifically, The Department of Energy says it’s that would “improve the robustness, reliability, and transparency of Big Data and AI technologies, as well as quantification and development of software tools for DOE mission applications.” About $71 million would go to DOE’s Office of Science, and $48 million would go to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which safeguards the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The National Institutes of Health doesn’t lay out exactly how much it’s requesting in its , but it does detail what the money would be used for: “NIH is focused on the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) for catalyzing advances in basic (e.g., image interpretation, neuroscience, genomic variants and disease risk, gene structure, and epigenomics) and clinical research (e.g., robotic surgery, natural language processing of electronic health record data, inferring treatment options for cancer, reading radiology results). NIH recognizes that there are many areas of biomedical research where novel computing, machine intelligence, and deep learning techniques have the potential to advance human health.” NIST hasn’t yet provided details about the funds it’s aiming to devote to AI, but its total R&D budget would be trimmed by 8 percent if the administration’s proposal is accepted. NSF would face a 10 percent cut, and NIH would see its total R&D budget reduced by 13 percent. The White House says fiscal austerity is forcing a narrowing of R&D priorities. “While recognizing the continued importance of R&D spending to support innovation, fiscal prudence demands a more focused approach to the Federal R&D budget in the context of America’s multi-sector R&D enterprise. This approach prioritizes maintaining peace through strength and ensures U.S. leadership in the Industries of the Future,” the White House said in its R&D overview. AI is considered one of four Industries of the Future, along with quantum information science, advanced communications systems such as 5G and advanced manufacturing. Today the White House sent another signal that it wants to raise the profile of AI research by launching a new internet portal about its policy: . The website pulls together the administration’s policies, documents and program descriptions relating to AI. “The White House’s newly unveiled illustrates our whole of government approach to national artificial intelligence policy and the historic strides this administration has made over the past two years,” Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, said in a news release. “We look forward to continued advancements solidifying America’s position as the world leader in AI and ensuring this emerging technology is developed and applied for the benefit of the American people.” Will the White House’s AI spending plan get through Congress? It’s likely to get some tweaks along the way, but lawmakers have been generally supportive of AI initiatives. In contrast, the White House’s wider plan to trim back on R&D spending is facing pushback from the scientific community and some congressional leaders.
White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier addresses the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., with a video image of him looming in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump’s newly minted science adviser reached out to his peers today at one of the country’s biggest scientific meetings and called for the establishment of a “second bold era” of basic research. “I hope that you never forget that I am one of you,” Kelvin Droegemeier, who was, told hundreds of attendees here at the annual meeting of the . The University of Oklahoma meteorologist is coming into a job that was vacant for two years, in an administration that hasn’t exactly been viewed as science-friendly. The White House’s environmental policies are a particular sore point, in light of Trump’s and . But Droegemeier’s selection has gotten generally good reviews from the science community. AAAS CEO Rush Holt, a Ph.D. physicist and former congressman, took note of Droegemeier’s reputation as a “solid scientist” in his introduction. “Everyone who works with him finds him to have a very accessible manner,” Holt said. “We scientists hope and trust that this will turn into accessible policy.” In his talk, Droegemeier invoked the legacy of science adviser , who set the stage for America’s postwar science boom in 1945 with a report he wrote for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, titled Droegemeier said modern-day America remains the world’s leader in science and technology, but warned that other countries were “nipping at our heels.” “In many respects, we’re kind of thinking in the same ways that we have since World War II … and I would call that period from the Bush treatise in World War II up to the present that first great bold era of science and technology in that endless frontier,” Droegemeier said. “The past 75 years have been extraordinary, and I think we’re about to turn a page into a new frontier.” He said the second bold era would take advantage of the full sweep of America’s research assets, underpinned by American values and based on three pillars: Understanding America’s research and development ecosystem in a new context: Droegemeier called for a quadrennial assessment that takes stock of the entire R&D enterprise, including research conducted by the government, the private sector, academia and non-profit organizations. He pointed to the example of artificial intelligence research: What’s the future demand for AI, and what assets can be deployed to supercharge progress in that field? “The answer is that we don’t really have a clue,” he said. “Getting a handle on this as a portfolio is a real challenge, but in my view, if we’re able to do that, it will really help us think about how to strategically invest and move forward.” Leveraging the collective strength of R&D sectors through innovative partnerships: Droegemeier talked about rekindling the spirit of “those famous blue-sky research labs of the past,” such as . He suggested creating a network of “Alpha Institutes” to pursue “absolutely transformational ideas on some of the biggest challenges that face humanity today, like space exploration, climate change, eradicating disease and making it possible for people to live longer and healthier lives.” These institutes would be located at colleges and universities, and would be funded primarily by industries and non-profits. Ensure that America’s research environments are safe, secure and welcoming: Droegemeier said he would work with the scientific community to tackle the issue of . He said another one of his top priorities would be to make sure that “our resources do not fall into the hands of those attempting to do us harm, or those who would seek to reap the benefits of our hard work without doing hard work themselves.” And he called for “reducing the unnecessary administrative burdens that divert researchers’ time and attention away from innovating and discovery.” He estimated that such burdens cost a few billion dollars a year. After the talk, Droegemeier got a tentative vote of support from Harvard physicist John Holdren, who served as President Barack Obama’s science adviser. “I think Kelvin’s going to do a great job,” Holdren told GeekWire. He added that Droegemeier is likely to face extra challenges because he’s joining the White House team halfway through Trump’s term of office. Holdren hoped that the White House would follow up by making long-overdue appointments to the . AAAS’ Holt said Droegemeier’s speech was “a good talk,” but held off on discussing specific suggestions, such as the Alpha Institute concept. “At the moment, it’s just talk,” Holt told GeekWire.
Artificial intelligence could open the door to applications in a variety of technological fields. (NIST Illustration / N. Hanacek) The White House is moving forward with the American AI Initiative, a set of policies aimed at focusing the full resources of the federal government on the frontiers of artificial intelligence. President Donald Trump is due to sign an executive order launching the initiative on Monday. Among its provisions is a call for federal agencies to prioritize AI in their research and development missions, and to prioritize fellowship and training programs to help American workers gain AI-relevant skills. The initiative also directs agencies to make federal data, models and computing resources more available to academic and industry researchers, “while maintaining the security and confidentiality protections we all expect.” “This action will drive our top-notch AI research toward new technological breakthroughs and promote scientific discovery, economic competitiveness and national security,” the White House said in a statement. As a trust-building measure, federal agencies are being asked to establish regulatory guidelines for AI development and use across different types of technology and industrial sectors. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is being given the lead role in the development of technical standards for reliable, trustworthy, secure and interoperable AI systems. The White House says an action plan will be developed “to preserve America’s advantage in collaboration with our international partners and allies.” “In , President Trump committed to investing in cutting-edge industries of the future,” Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, said in a prepared statement. “The American AI Initiative follows up on that promise with decisive action to ensure AI is developed and applied for the benefit of the American people.” This week’s action comes amid rising concern about American competitiveness in artificial intelligence research and development. and the are both pushing ahead with multibillion-dollar AI research and development programs. In response, the White House has , and a with Amazon’s Andy Jassy and Microsoft’s Eric Horvitz among its members. and are among the hundreds of companies that are making AI a high priority in R&D, resulting in well-known products such as Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana AI voice assistants (as well as similar AI agents offered by Apple and Google). AI capabilities such as machine learning and computer vision are also key to the development of and . Stacey Dixon, director of the , or IARPA, said AI applications are also highly relevant to national security. “Understanding imagery is one of the most evident opportunities for us to use AI, due to the sheer quantity of data to be analyzed and AI’s demonstrated effectiveness at image categorization,” she said. “However, IARPA also develops AI to address other intelligence challenges, including human language transcription and translation, facial recognition in real-world environments, sifting through videos to find nefarious activities, and increasing AI’s resilience to many kinds of attacks by adversaries.” Those AI tools could be used for nefarious purposes as well, however. , a consortium including the and called on policymakers to collaborate closely with researchers to investigate, prevent and mitigate potentially malicious uses of AI.