President Donald Trump has compelled federal agencies to step up research and development of artificial intelligence (AI) with a new order, calling the US lead in AI of “paramount importance” to America’s national security.
A new executive order signed by Trump on Monday warns the US government against falling behind its strategic competitors in the race for AI supremacy. The order says that “continued American leadership” in the high-tech sector is of “paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security” of the US and it is the Trump administration policy to “sustain and enhance” it.
The freshly-signed document outlines five principles to guide the US federal agencies as they embark on implementing the ambitious plan. One is to “train current and future generations of American workers with the skills to develop and apply AI technologies” as well as to nurture public trust in AI.
The latter has been a burning issue for years, since many people are inclined to take the rise of AI with a grain of salt, or may even fear a robot uprising, something that only a few years ago could have been dismissed as pure science fiction.
However, with AlphaStar, a creation of Alphabet-owned DeepMind Al, which can beat humans in StarCraft and boasts an Al algorithm that discovered a previously unknown human species, the AI takeover has been perceived by some as uncontrolled and hostile, since robots are bound to leave many of us jobless with their far superior skills.
Alarm over a looming machine takeover has been sounded by Alibaba’s Jack Ma, who has warned that the race for AI dominance could stir up a third world war. The sentiment was echoed by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who said that an AI revolution is a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”
US agencies must now come up with an action plan within 120 days of the executive order’s publication, that would prioritize US preeminence in AI technologies.
The plan shall “protect the United States advantage in AI and AI technology critical to United States economic and national security interests against strategic competitors and adversarial nations,” and may even be classified “in full or in part,” the document says.
The order comes as the US dominance in AI is at risk of slipping away amid Chinese advances. A recent poll conducted by PwC showed that some 25 percent of Chinese top executives surveyed employed AI in their companies, while only five percent of American executives did the same.
Billionaire George Soros has recently called the use of such technologies by the Chinese government a “mortal danger” to open societies, urging the US to apply more pressure to Chinese tech, which it has been currently doing by accusing Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE of spying and by also mulling a ban on their telecommunications equipment in the US.
While fears of a robot uprising might seem a bit premature, some frightening incidents have already taken place – from Amazon voice assistant Alexa laughing creepily and sending users’ recordings to other people, to a warehouse robot spraying its human colleagues with bear repellent.