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AI illustration: N. Hanacek / NIST
Artificial intelligence could open the door to applications in a variety of 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 signed an executive order launching the initiative today. 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 last week’s State of the Union address, 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.

China and the European Union are both pushing ahead with multibillion-dollar AI research and development programs. In response, the White House has formed an advisory panel on AI R&D, and a federal commission focusing on AI’s national security implications has been established with Amazon’s Andy Jassy and Microsoft’s Eric Horvitz among its members.

Amazon and Microsoft 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 autonomous vehicles and precision robotics.

Stacey Dixon, director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, 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. In a report issued last year, a consortium including the Electronic Freedom Foundation and OpenAI called on policymakers to collaborate closely with researchers to investigate, prevent and mitigate potentially malicious uses of AI.

This is an updated version of a report originally published at 9 p.m. PT March 10.

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