White House Says Agencies Need Industry Help to Execute National AI Strategy

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Reforming regulations around artificial intelligence requires an intimate understanding of the tech, which is something most agencies don’t have, according to the Trump administration’s AI chief.

Federal agencies are being asked to do most of the legwork to implement the Trump administration’s newly released artificial intelligence strategy, but they lack the tech expertise to achieve success on their own, according to top White House tech officials.

Signed by President Trump on Feb. 11, the American AI Initiative pushes the government to double down on efforts to advance artificial intelligence and give the country a leg up in the global race for technological superiority.

While industry and academic tech experts agreed a national AI strategy was long overdue, the plan drew criticism for its lack of details. Despite urging agencies to undertake numerous efforts to advance the technology, the strategy included neither additional funding nor specific policy proposals.

The sparse guidance means agencies will have to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to implementing the strategy, but that’s intended to be more of a feature than a bug, according to U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios.

“We have regulators that are extraordinarily capable and know the specific domain that they cover very well,” Kratsios said at an event hosted by the Center for New American Security. “We’re really focused on empowering the regulators within individual agencies and providing them with the general high-level concepts of what we’re trying to achieve here.”

The strategy specifically calls on agencies to prioritize AI research and reconfigure regulations to “advance American innovation while respecting civil liberties, privacy and American values,” two initiatives that would require a deep understanding of the tech to succeed.

But today most agencies don’t have the AI experts they need to spot the most promising research or rewrite rules to promote responsible innovation, according to Lynne Parker, the assistant director for artificial intelligence in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

At the Center for New American Security event, Parker said the administration is looking for ways to work with the tech industry to get a better understanding of what regulatory reforms would be most effective in advancing the technology. Beyond traditional working groups, she told Nextgov OSTP is also exploring potential fellowship programs and short-term public service stints to bring industry experts into the mix.

“I think there are unique models for how do work together to try to share that expertise,” Parker said.

The Trump administration has long considered regulatory reform one of the best ways to advance artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, but some experts worry involving the industry too much in that process could let companies essentially write their own rules.

But just because the private sector will pursue regulations that are best for business doesn’t mean the rules are necessarily bad, according to Will Carter, deputy director of the tech policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The fact that [regulations are] favorable to them isn’t necessarily a problem as long as [they] address the goal of the safe and responsible deployment of the technology,” Carter told Nextgov. “There are a lot of industries where there’s a clear incentive to try to make regulations strong and to make sure the system is implemented well.”

In fact, he said collaboration between business and government could ultimately give the U.S. a leg up in the race to dominate the global AI market.

“Whether you look at Europe or China, the difficulty of getting meaningful discourse going between the business community … and the government means that their policies aren’t as well balanced or thought out,” Carter said. “I think the fact that we can get our industries involved is a huge comparative advantage for us.”