By John P. Mello Jr.
Mar 3, 2021 4:15 AM PT

A road map for continued U.S. leadership in artificial intelligence was revealed Monday in a 756-page report released by a national commission.

Two years in the making, the report by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence made a number of recommendations to make the United States a leader in the AI age. Those include:

  • Formation of a Technology Competitiveness Council to build a strategy that accounts for the complex security, economic, and scientific challenges of AI and its associated technologies
  • Establishment of Digital Service Academy and civilian National Reserve to grow tech talent with the same seriousness of purpose by which military officers are developed
  • US$35 billion to revive the domestic manufacture of computer chips
  • $40 billion to expand and democratize federal AI research and development

“America is not prepared to defend or compete in the AI era,” declared the report by the bipartisan panel made up of 15 technologists, national security professionals, business executives, and academic leaders.

“This is the tough reality we must face,” it continued. “And it is this reality that demands comprehensive, whole-of-nation action.”

Leveraging Data

Brandon Valeriano, a senior fellow at The Cato Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. agreed that the United States is underprepared for the age of AI.

“That’s particularly true in terms of how we’re using and collecting data that can be leveraged for AI,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“I’m not clear that our policymakers and leaders understand how AI works,” he continued. “To leverage artificial intelligence, you need data. Our government hasn’t done so well in collecting data that we can leverage for AI. That’s one of the issues we’re falling behind on.”

“Until we do,” he said, “we’re not going to be prepared to leverage AI to meet modern challenges.”

Failure to address the data problem could also affect the nation’s position as the leader of AI in the world. “China could take the lead if the U.S. ignores this strategic threat,” observed Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a research and public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

“One of China’s biggest advantages is its access to data,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The U.S. is considering following in the EU’s footsteps and more heavily regulate data. This would prohibit U.S. companies, and the U.S. government, from using data for training AI systems.

Authoritarian Advantages

Vahid Behzadan, director of the Secure and Assured Intelligent Learning Lab at the University of New Haven pointed out that China has a number of advantages over the United States when competing for AI dominance.

For example, relaxed data protection and privacy regulations give China access to richer data sets, which can fuel advances in machine learning in domains such as healthcare.

In addition, relaxed deployment and implementation regulations allow for a shorter latency between R&D and market deployment.

“However,” he told TechNewsWorld, “the U.S. still maintains its superiority in terms of innovation and the quality of R&D infrastructure, which can neutralize the momentum gained by China in the data domain.”

The United States also has a vast array of businesses working on AI. “The number of companies engaged in building out differentiated AI is absolutely massive,” observed Suketu Gandhi, a partner with Kearney, a global management consulting firm.

“My assessment is that we are way ahead on artificial intelligence,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Another indicator of U.S. AI supremacy is talent. “If you could go anywhere in the world to solve an AI problem, where would you go?” Gandhi asked. “Most people would say the U.S. because of the broad canvas on which ideas are painted here and the skill set of the people available.”

“Our universities are churning out some of the best AI developers in the world,” he added.

Beating the Dragon

In its report, the commission emphasized the need for the United States to win the AI competition with China.

“China’s plans, resources, and progress should concern all Americans,” the report noted. “It is an AI peer in many areas and an AI leader in some applications. We take seriously China’s ambition to surpass the United States as the world’s AI leader within a decade.”

It added that the AI competition with China wasn’t just a technology competition but one also of values.

“China’s domestic use of AI is a chilling precedent for anyone around the world who cherishes individual liberty,” the report asserted.

“Its employment of AI as a tool of repression and surveillance — at home and, increasingly, abroad — is a powerful counterpoint to how we believe AI should be used,” it continued.

“The AI future can be democratic, but we have learned enough about the power of technology to strengthen authoritarianism abroad and fuel extremism at home to know that we must not take for granted that future technology trends will reinforce rather than erode democracy,” it added.

Weaponizing AI

The commission also aired concerns about AI being weaponized. “AI systems will also be used in the pursuit of power,” its report noted. “We fear AI tools will be weapons of first resort in future conflicts.”

“State adversaries are already using AI-enabled disinformation attacks to sow division in democracies and jar our sense of reality,” the panel reported.

“States, criminals, and terrorists will conduct AI-powered cyberattacks and pair AI software with commercially available drones to create “smart weapons,” it continued. “It is no secret that America’s military rivals are integrating AI concepts and platforms to challenge the United States’ decades-long technology advantage.”

Controlling AI weapons, however, will be as difficult as controlling the cyber weapons of today.

“In my opinion, the weaponization of AI cannot be controlled via traditional means of regulatory enforcement,” Behzadan maintained.

“One of the unique characteristics of the AI domain is its open-source nature — much of the research publications and advances in AI are openly available to the public,” he explained.

“Also,” he continued, “the technological race for improving AI hardware has led to increasingly cheap solutions for AI-enabled systems. Therefore, the current ecosystem easily enables anyone with sufficient motivation to develop AI-enabled weapons.”


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.