Commission report on AI includes broader tech policy recommendations

Last week the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence issued its Final Report. Established by Section 1051 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 to take a very broad look at Artificial Intelligence (AI).

There are lots and lots and lots of AI-specific information, findings, and recommendations (including 60+ specific funding recommendations). While the vast majority of the report focuses on AI (as it should), the 756-page report includes a number of important broader technology policy recommendations that could easily be overlooked. These provisions are important for the development of AI, but affect technologies in general.

One of the biggest items is the report’s call for the creation of a National Technology Foundation (NTF) with budget starting at $1 billion for FY2022 and ramping up to $20 billion by FY 2026 (for a total five-year budget of $51 billion). In contrast, the FY2021 budget for NSF was almost $8.5 billion. Unlike other proposals, the National Technology Foundation would be separate but parallel to NSF. The NTF would focus on technology development and commercialization in a number of key technologies, including AI, biotechnology, quantum computing, semiconductors and advanced hardware, robotics and automated systems, 5G telecommunications, additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing), and energy storage technology.

In a similar vein, the report notes that there is no agreement as to which technologies are considered critical, and therefore no way to prioritize governmental strategy and actions. The report calls for “a single, authoritative list of technologies and sectors which are key to overall U.S. competitiveness, along with detailed implementation plans for each to ensure long-term U.S. leadership.”

The report recommends creation of a National Network for Regional Innovation in Emerging Technologies, with a budget of $200 million for FY2022 – FY2026. This network would coordinate and fund the creation of Technology Research Centers in each designated Regional Innovation Cluster to facilitate industry-academia-government collaboration on critical technologies.

The report also recommends modernizing export controls, reforming investment screening (through CFIUS), amending the Foreign Agents Registration Act to better protect critical technologies, and expanding STEM-oriented immigration. In addition, they recommend the creation of a University Affiliated Research Center focused on research integrity and research security.

To promote greater international cooperation, the report recommends the creation of an Under Secretary for Science, Research and Technology and the creation of an Emerging Technology Fund at the State Department to support “digital foreign assistance, digital development projects, emerging technology programs, and other related initiatives of the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development.”

Finally, the report recommends expanding the loan authority of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to include funding of domestic industrial base capabilities supporting critical technologies. Specifically, the recommendation is to delegate authority under Title III of the Defense Production Act to the DFC.

As I said, there is a lot in this report. Even if the report had limited itself to just AI-specific recommendations, this would be a pathbreaking set of recommendations. Importantly the commission recognized that our AI strategy must exist in the context of a larger technology strategy. Adding these broader technology policy recommendations strengthens the overall impact on AI development. In doing so it goes above and beyond in setting the direction for technology policy for years to come.

The report lays out an ambitious agenda for policymakers. I hope that they will embrace the broader recommendations and not just cherry-pick some of the AI specific ones. Embedded in this report is an important set of ideas that offer the opportunity to dramatically move technology policy in the right direction. Policymakers need to seize this opportunity.

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