your123 - stock.adobe.com
The federal government's investments in artificial intelligence research and development seek to not only set the U.S. on a path to compete with China but also diversify assets previously accessible by only powerful technology companies and universities.
The National Science Foundation, together with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, established a task force as directed by the National AI Initiative Act of 2020. The group spent the past 18 months working on a report outlining an implementation plan for a National AI Research Resource (NAIRR), which was released in January.
Alan Pelz-SharpeFounder, Deep Analysis
The NAIRR is a shared research infrastructure that will increase access for a wider variety of AI researchers and students to resources such as educational tools, high-quality data and support -- currently limited to tech companies with extensive resources, such as Google and Microsoft.
The goal behind providing such a resource is to overcome the access divide, "reaping the benefits of greater brainpower and more diverse perspectives and experiences applied to developing the future of AI technology and its role in our society," according to the report. To achieve its goals, the task force estimated the NAIRR will need a $2.6 billion budget and six-year implementation plan.
President Joe Biden highlighted U.S. investments in AI during his State of the Union address this week, reiterating the need to stay competitive with China. Yet the rise of the next generation of AI tools like ChatGPT is also behind the federal government's interest in understanding and funding AI research, said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder of market analysis firm Deep Analysis.
"The perceived threat from China is almost certainly a driver here, but I am not sure it is the primary driver," Pelz-Sharpe said. "It's more that technology -- AI particularly -- is moving at such a pace and having such an impact that the government feels compelled to address its many problems."
NAIRR aims to boost innovation outside of big tech
The NAIRR will play an important role in driving some of the AI research and testing back to academia, scientific facilities and organizations outside of big technology companies, Pelz-Sharpe said.
"Currently, most of the innovation is coming from private companies and is essentially unregulated, and testing of its impact on society is secondary to getting a product onto the market as quickly as possible," he said.
Indeed, the task force pointed out the challenge that AI research relies on access to advanced computational power, as well as to vast troves of data that are often unavailable to researchers outside of "well-resourced technology companies and universities."
Limiting access to AI constrains the ability to use AI to address societal problems, and limits the diversity of AI researchers, which the report notes contributes to biases and other inequalities in AI systems.
Access to a resource like the NAIRR could improve innovation in areas where there is "no clear, immediate economic incentive," said Forrester analyst Brandon Purcell.
"There are potentially going to be impacts on other areas like sustainability or increasing equity in society," Purcell said.
Beyond boosting access to AI research and ushering in innovation, Purcell said another goal of the AI resource is to foster responsible use of the technology, ensuring systems are transparent and can explain decisions and predictions.
According to the report, implementing the NAIRR "presents a unique and critical opportunity to 'design in' the standards for responsible AI research practices and governance processes that uphold our priority to develop and harness these groundbreaking technologies in a manner that reinforces our nation's democratic values and Americans' personal freedoms."
Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.