The following remarks were delivered by Michael Kratsios, Chief Technology Officer of the United States, at the Center for Data Innovation event How the United States Can Maintain Its Lead in the Global AI Race held on September 10, 2019 at the National Press Club.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for having me here. I want to begin by thanking ITIF, Rob, and everyone else for hosting this event. It really comes at a critical time for our nation’s collective AI efforts. Now, as ITIF’s latest report shows, the United States holds the competitive edge in this field. This is not only a field that America knows, it is a field that actually Americans founded.
63 years ago, a dozen Americans gathered for what was then called the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence. What began as a small group of scientists has now become a worldwide industry—and America has never looked back.
Today we have eight of the top thirteen universities for AI and six of the top ten. Just as important as the number of great schools we have is the impact our scholars make in their field. American scholarly publications are cited 83 percent more than the average global of AI publications.
Our innovative industries are also booming. America has roughly 2,000 AI companies, more than double our closest global competitor. We boast more AI unicorns, those being startups valued over $1 billion, than any other nation. Of the 32 AI unicorns, the United States has 17.
When you look at spending on AI R&D from some of the world’s largest tech companies, American corporations collectively outspent their foreign counterparts by roughly six times this past year alone. In addition, in 2018, America’s venture capital funding of AI was roughly double that of our closest competitor.
I think everybody in this room knows AI is going to transform American industry—from breakthroughs in medicine, to advance transportation, and more personalized education, the promise of AI is boundless. Just yesterday, the White House hosted nearly 200 leaders from government, industry, and academia for the AI in Government summit, discussing innovative applications to leverage this powerful tool for improving government services.
The U.S. has pushed the boundaries of computational power, we have given our innovators the freedom to thrive, and today we can proudly say America continues to be the leader in artificial intelligence.
Now the Trump Administration is committed to maintaining and strengthening that leadership, which is why the federal government continues to prioritize AI research and development.
I’m pleased to announce that today the Administration released a new supplement report to the President’s FY 2020 budget, identifying nearly $1 billion in non-defense AI R&D. This number is incredibly important in so many ways.
This is the first ever reporting of agency-by-agency federal investment in non-defense AI R&D. This new supplement report demonstrates just how diverse and extensive our efforts are—laying out our spending across the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy and many other agencies. It provides an important mechanism and baseline for tracking U.S. AI R&D spending moving forward.
By breaking down exactly how we’re spending our non-defense AI R&D dollars, we can better identify opportunities for future investment, conduct long-term strategic planning across the government and find new opportunities for collaboration between the federal government, industry, and academia.
And it demonstrates the increased emphasis on AI R&D under this administration. For perspective, in 2016, the federal government spent a billion dollars on AI R&D total, including defense spending. Today’s nearly $1 billion figure doesn’t include defense. So you can truly see how much non-defense R&D has grown in just a short period of time.
While the Department of Defense keeps the aggregate level of defense AI investment classified, the DoD is investing in many highly visible and impactful programs, including at DARPA, Project Maven, and the Joint AI Center, totaling nearly another $1 billion.
So importantly, we also know that so much more AI investment and activity is happening across the U. S. innovation ecosystem thanks to robust private sector and academic community.
I encourage you all to take a look at the document, which was just released this morning on AI.gov.
Although America is the leader in AI, China is working to catch up. We see the comparisons and headlines all the time. Too often, the conversation focuses almost exclusively not on where America is dominant, but instead on the alleged disparity in government spending on AI R&D. However, in this metric, there is a tendency to compare apples to oranges.
It’s absolutely critical to remember that when the United States releases AI R&D spending information, it is annualized, and it is directly related to research and development alone. The new budget supplement released today is the perfect example.
In American AI R&D budgets, you won’t find aspirational expenditures or cryptic funding mechanisms. You also won’t find the U.S. government picking and choosing winners in the AI field.
What you will find in America is an innovative ecosystem that drives innovation, creativity, and breakthroughs like no country on Earth.
Our collective investments from the federal government in the private sector, the success of our scholars and innovators, and the unsurpassed quality of our business and academic institutions remain unmatched.
So today, our goal is very clear. The uniquely American ecosystem must do everything in its collective power to keep America’s lead in the AI race and build on our successes. And we must continue to do so in a way that embraces American values and spirit of innovation for the benefit of the American people.
Our leadership is about more than R&D dollars. Our future rests on getting AI right. AI will support the jobs of the future. It is and will continue to drive economic growth. It is advancing our national security, and it is improving our daily lives. When we lead in AI, it will drive our free and prosperous future.
Authoritarian nations look at new technologies as another way to control their people, using AI to surveil their population, limit free speech, and violate fundamental rights. This is not the American way. Our vision for artificial intelligence is rooted in the rule of law, respect for rights, and the spirit of freedom. From the plow to the television, to the radio, to the mobile phone and to the Internet, America’s spirit has driven innovation, embraced technology, and in turn, technological breakthroughs have lifted Americans up.
As the president said in his executive order launching the American Artificial Intelligence Initiative, “Continued American leadership in AI is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States and to shaping the global evolution of AI in a manner consistent with our nation’s values, policies, and priorities.”
With this vision in mind, earlier this year the Trump administration unveiled the American AI initiative—our strategy to ensure American dominance in artificial intelligence. This is by far the boldest action the federal government has ever taken on artificial intelligence.
Ultimately, the American AI initiative has five main pillars.
First, as I discussed today, the initiative focuses on investments in AI R&D. The president has called for agencies across the government to prioritize AI research and development, as demonstrated by the new AI budget supplement and the recent update to her our R&D strategic plan.
We will continue to leverage America’s vibrant R&D ecosystem of industry, academia, and government to advance the most cutting-edge ideas and to bring the developments directly to all Americans.
Second, we’re working to unleash federal AI resources. We want to improve public access to high quality federal data that can drive even more AI research and testing.
The third pillar of the initiative is to remove barriers to AI innovation. Our goal is to promote innovation while protecting America’s civil liberties and privacy. We’re developing official regulatory guidance that will determine how federal agencies should approach the use of AI in the private sector.
We’re also working to strengthen federal engagement in the creation of the technical standards we need for AI development and deployment. NIST has already made great progress. Just last month, they released a plan for federal engagement in the development of AI standards that will be reliable, robust, and trustworthy.
Our fourth pillar focuses on the very root of our nation’s strength and success: the American worker. The President has directed federal agencies to prioritize artificial intelligence in their grants and their fellowships. We’re helping the American people gain the AI relevant skills through apprenticeships, workforce training, stem education, and learning opportunities.
Fifth, we are promoting an international environment supportive of American AI innovation. Recently, the Trump Administration made history by joining together with democracies in the world that share our common values when we signed an international consensus document on AI Principles at the OECD in Paris. These principles compliment our own national strategy—and we look forward to continuing this partnership with our allies.
We will continue to develop new technologies in a way that advances innovation, promotes public trust, protects civil liberties, and remains consistent with our common principles.
Our holistic strategy will improve our development of AI, empower the American people, promote innovative uses of new technology, and stay true to our values.
We start from a position of great strength, and we have a plan to keep winning.
I’m looking forward to working with all of you to retain our American leadership in artificial intelligence.
Follow the conversation on Twitter using #datainnovation.