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The AI Revolution is Here. Why the U.S. Must Lead the Way.

May 15, 2024

China aims to dominate emerging tech landscape, posing a risk to U.S. national security.

Amid lawmakers’ release of a long-awaited road map on artificial intelligence regulation this week, one thing is clear: The U.S. must retain its important role in leading the advancement of this emerging technology. That’s particularly critical given China’s growing efforts in the AI arena, where by some measures it is already surpassing the U.S.

With the U.S. and China holding their first high-level talks on AI this week, experts say that while China lags behind the U.S. in generative AI capabilities, it now outpaces the U.S. in AI publications and research. One recent study found China has also eclipsed the U.S. as the largest producer of AI talent. Still, that study also determined the U.S. remains the preferred destination for top-tier AI talent — an advantage the nation can’t afford to give up. Plus, Chinese companies rely almost entirely on U.S. technology for their AI systems, and data from the National Science Board underscore that the two countries work closely together on collaborative research, with U.S. and Chinese scientists most likely to partner on coauthored articles than scientists from any other pair of countries.

As the landscape rapidly shifts both nationally and globally, it’s critical that the U.S. develop a national science and technology strategy that ramps up federal investment in AI. It must also ensure that U.S. government agencies work hand in hand with the companies that are largely driving AI advances to foster a thoughtful approach to regulation that does not stifle development. Failure to do so risks ceding U.S leadership on this key technology to China, which has launched malicious cyberattacks against critical American infrastructure.

We can’t let that happen.

At a recent National Science Board forum, top government, academia and business leaders discussed ways to draft clear and measurable policy goals, align the AI policy and R&D communities, and create a set of next steps aimed at harnessing the power of AI to revolutionize scientific discovery while avoiding threats to national security.

A bipartisan group of senators released details this week on a sweeping mandate that calls for $32 billion in funding for AI R&D and the development of specific rules aimed at increasing transparency and protecting U.S. competitiveness. Such action is key given that a poll included in the Science & Technology Action Committee’s State of Science in America Report found many respondents favor some level of government regulation of AI is warranted.

While the survey found that U.S. workers in five key sectors favor the federal government working to regulate AI, most do not believe it should do so unilaterally. Instead, 34% want the federal government to work with tech companies and 21% would like the United States to work with other countries in developing a regulatory framework. Another 17% believe the United States needs to take a wait-and-see approach.

Congress isn’t waiting around to take action. In addition to the planned road map, lawmakers have introduced dozens of bills aimed at regulating artificial intelligence, ensuring its legitimate and transparent use, and funding its development. A bipartisan letter signed earlier this year by Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) also called for additional funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) U.S. Artificial Intelligence Safety Institute (USAISI) to ensure the nation maintains its role in setting the standards for AI innovation and use on a global scale.

“The rapid advancement of AI innovation has brought forth immense possibilities and opportunities. However, with these advancements come potential challenges and risks that must be addressed in a safe manner,” the senators wrote. “This is not only a matter of technical necessity, but also a strategic imperative to ensure that AI technologies are developed in a manner that reflects our shared democratic values and supports American industry.”

Industry stakeholders also say it’s critical that the government work with companies large and small as it develops AI policy to minimize risks and maximize opportunities while also ensuring the United States continues to lead.

“It is imperative that Congress advance policies that support the deployment of ethical artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure continued global leadership by the United States for the benefit of American consumers, workers and America’s continued economic competitiveness,” Neil L. Bradley, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer and Head of Strategic Advocacy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote in a recent letter to Congress.

In order to lead the way in the global AI revolution, it’s clear that the U.S. must develop a national science and technology strategy that ramps up investment and fosters coordination among the entire science and technology ecosystem — across federal agencies, sectors, industries and academia. Doing so will shape the future of the entire nation — and world.

“One of the challenges from the R&D perspective is that there are not measurable policy goals to work toward,” Lynne Parker, associate vice chancellor and director of the AI Tennessee Initiative at the University of Tennessee, said at the NSB event. “What we need to do is … focus on more of a road map for how to align those goals so that we can accelerate accomplishment of the AI governance policies that most of us share.”

The Science & Technology Action Committee (STAC) is a group of 25 non-profit, academic, foundation, and corporate leaders working to dramatically strengthen U.S. science and technology. The Committee is co-chaired by: Bill Novelli, Professor Emeritus and founder of Business for Impact at Georgetown University and former CEO of AARP, Sudip Parikh, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Executive Publisher of the Science Family of Journals, Mary Woolley, President & CEO of Research!America, and Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy at UCSF and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).