Submit to Digest

President Trump Issues Executive Order to Maintain American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence


Exec. Order No. 13,859, 84 Fed. Reg. 3967 (February 14, 2019).

On February 11, 2019, President Trump issued an executive order aimed at establishing America’s place as the global leader in artificial intelligence technology. Largely following up on the recommendations of the 2018 White House Summit on Artificial Intelligence for American Industry, it marks the launch of the American AI Initiative.

Entitled “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence,” the executive order outlines five main directives:

  • Federal investment: Federal agencies should establish AI research and development as an agency priority and develop budgets accordingly. The agencies should also explore opportunities to collaborate with academia and the private sector.
  • Federal resources: Agencies should identify ways to enable the greater AI research community to use federal resources in the form of data, models, and computing resources, while preserving security and confidentiality.
  • Guidelines for regulation: The Office of Management and Budget and the National Institute of Standards and Technology should establish guidelines and standards to enable the regulation of AI technologies, with the aim of enabling innovation while protecting privacy and national security interests.
  • Preparing the workforce: Agencies that provide educational grants and fellowships to students and researchers should consider AI as a priority area, giving preference to American citizens when possible.
  • Protecting American AI: The National Security Advisor should develop an action plan to protect AI technology critical to American economic and national security against strategic competitors and adversarial nations.

Implementation of these tasks will be largely coordinated by the National Science and Technology Committee Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial intelligence, a term that has no agreed-upon definition, can be described broadly as software that makes decisions that typically require human judgment. A recent Brookings Institution report predicted that broad adoption of AI will “transform the world.” A PwC study predicts that AI could add over $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

American companies like Alphabet are generally considered the current world leaders in AI technology, but China is aggressively seeking to overtake those American companies. After the Chinese government announced an ambitious plan in July 2017 to be the world leader in AI by 2030, some American experts called for the Trump administration to chart its own path forward.

The executive order appears to be a step in that direction, but many worry that it will not be enough. One concern is that the order did not provide new research funds. The order directs federal agencies to allocate money towards AI but does not indicate where that money is to come from.

Another concern is that the order lacks details on implementation. Much of the order is dependent on future agency reports to identify opportunities for action, and there are no milestones set up for long-term progress evaluation. An assessment by the Brookings Institution worries that without dedicated funding and concrete mechanisms for implementation or inter-agency coordination, the initiative will fail.

On the other hand, the day after Trump’s executive order was issued, the Department of Defense released its Artificial Intelligence Strategy, establishing its own objectives and strategies regarding AI. Additionally, the executive order references a yet-unreleased National Security Presidential Memorandum, “Protecting the United States Advantage in Artificial Intelligence and Related Technologies,” which will guide the development of the action plan to protect American AI technology.

Many critics have also noted that the executive order makes no mention of immigration. They argue that harsh visa policies drive away global talent that is vital to innovation in American technology companies, and that other countries (like Canada), will reap the benefits. Given the order’s explicit focus on prioritizing American citizens in preparing the workforce, this omission may have been deliberate.

The race for AI dominance has barely begun, and its outcome may shape the decades to come. It remains to be seen whether the American AI Initiative will succeed.