White House Science Chief: U.S. is Still Beating China In AI, Quantum Research

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But that doesn’t mean the country should rest on its laurels, according to OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier.

The Trump administration’s science chief on Wednesday assured lawmakers the U.S. is still outpacing China in the global race for artificial intelligence and quantum technology, but he warned the country can’t take lead for granted.

“I think that we are really the world leader in AI, I think that’s also true in quantum [computing],” Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told a House Appropriations Committee subpanel. “Regardless of that, we need to be really focused on the industries of the future, because they’re a huge part of our economy and the world structure going forward.”

In recent years, lawmakers and industry experts have raised concerns that China’s heavy investment in AI and quantum research is threatening America’s own technological dominance, but those top-line spending figures don’t tell the whole story, according to Droegemeier.

China has indeed promised to pour tens of billions of dollars into its domestic AI market, he said, but today the U.S. government still doesn’t know how exactly that money is being spent. More money doesn’t always equate to more results when it comes to tech research, and OSTP is still trying to assess how the Chinese are prioritizing its AI spending, he said.

Today, civilian agencies spend about $1 billion per year on AI research, and the Pentagon is devoting some $600 million annually between the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Despite increased investment in AI, the Trump administration proposed a roughly 12 percent cut to civilian research budgets in its 2020 budget proposal.

Beyond direct research spending, Droegemeier told lawmakers the government could help bolster so-called “industries of the future”—AI, quantum technology and 5G broadband—by improving partnerships with the private sector.

“We don’t do nearly as well with partnerships as we could,” he told lawmakers.

As Droegemeier discussed his office’s budget proposal, on the other side of the Hill, Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios made the case for why he should take over as OSTP’s second-in-command.

Kratsios, who served as OSTP’s de facto head before Droegemeier was confirmed in January, was nominated to become U.S. chief technology officer and OSTP deputy director in March. If confirmed, he told the Senate Commerce Committee he would continue promoting a largely hands-off approach to innovation.

“I see incredible opportunities to create a regulatory environment that ensures as the future takes shape, the American people always end up as winners,” Kratsios said during the hearing.

On Tuesday, leaders from more than two dozen tech trade groups sent a letter to the committee supporting Kratsios’ nomination.