AI for America: US Lawmakers Encourage ‘Massive Investment’ in Artificial Intelligence

Three congressional representatives discuss U.S. AI policy at GTC 2020.
by Austin Carson

The upcoming election isn’t the only thing on lawmakers’ minds. Several congressional representatives have been grappling with U.S. AI policy for years, and their work is getting closer to being made into law.

The issue is one of America’s greatest challenges and opportunities: What should the U.S. do to harness AI for the public good, to benefit citizens and companies, and to extend the nation’s prosperity?

At the GPU Technology Conference this week, a bipartisan panel of key members of Congress on AI joined Axios reporter Erica Pandey for our AI for America panel to explore their strategies. Representatives Robin Kelly of Illinois, Will Hurd of Texas and Jerry McNerney of California discussed the immense opportunities of AI, as well as challenges they see as policymakers.

The representatives’ varied backgrounds gave each a unique perspective. McNerney, who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics, considers AI from the standpoint of science and technology. Hurd was a CIA agent and views it through the lens of national security. Kelly is concerned about the impact of AI on the community, jobs and income.

All agreed that the federal government, private sector and academia must work together to ensure that the United States continues to lead in AI. They also agree that AI offers enormous benefits for American companies and citizens.

McNerny summed it up by saying: “AI will affect every part of American life.”

Educate the Public, Educate Ourselves

Each legislator recognized how AI will be a boon for everything from sustainable agriculture to improving the delivery of citizen services. But these will only become reality with support from the public and elected officials.

Kelly emphasized the importance of education — to overcome fear and give workers new skills. Noting that she didn’t have a technical background, she said she considers the challenge from a different perspective than developers.

“We have to educate people and we have to educate ourselves,” she said. “Each community will be affected differently by AI. Education will allay a lot of fears.”

All three agreed that the U.S. federal government, academia and the private sector must collaborate to create this cultural shift. “We need a massive investment in AI education,” said McNerney, who detailed some of the work done at the University of the Pacific to create AI curricula.

Hurd urged Congress to reevaluate and update existing educational programs, making it more flexible to develop programming and data science skills instead of focusing on a full degree. He said we need to “open up federal data for everyone to utilize and take advantage.”

The panel raised other important needs, such as bringing computer science classes into high schools across the country and training federal workers to build AI into their project planning.

Roadmap to a More Efficient Future

Many Americans may not be aware that AI is already a part of their daily lives. The representatives offered some examples, including how AI is being used to maximize crop yields by crunching data on soil characteristics, weather and water consumption.

Hurd and Kelly have been focused on AI policy for several years. Working with the Bipartisan Policy Center, they developed the National Strategy on AI, a policy framework that lays out a strategy for the U.S. to accelerate AI R&D and adoption.

They introduced a resolution, backed by a year of work and four white papers, that calls for investments to make GPUs and other computing resources available, strengthening international cooperation, increasing funding for R&D, building out workforce training programs, and developing AI in an ethical way that reduces bias and protects privacy.

Ned Finkle, vice president of government affairs at NVIDIA, voiced support for the resolution, noting that the requirements for AI are steep.

“AI requires staggering amounts of data, specialized training and massive computational resources,” he said. “With this resolution, Representatives Hurd and Kelly are presenting a solid framework for urgently needed investments in computing power, workforce training, AI curriculum development and data resources.”

McNerney is also working to spur AI development and adoption. His AI in Government Act, which would direct federal agencies to develop plans to adopt AI and evaluate resources available to academia, has passed the House of Representatives and is pending with the Senate.

As their legislation moves forward, the representatives encourage industry leaders to provide input and support their efforts. They urged those interested to visit their websites and reach out.