White House announces $1 billion plan for advancing AI and quantum research

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The big picture: The US is funding 12 new technology hubs that will focus on a wide range of topics on artificial intelligence and quantum research. The move is part of a strategy to prevent the US from falling behind its rivals in emerging technologies, which is seen as a matter of national security.

The White House earlier today announced a $1 billion plan to establish no less than twelve federal research centers that will focus their work on two of the hottest topics in science and technology at the moment — artificial intelligence and quantum information science.

The move comes as criticism over a talent shortage in these fields is reaching new levels. In part, the problem is the result of a surge of students who enroll in computer science programs at many universities, who can’t seem to keep up with the demand. Additionally, the Trump administration issued a halt on high-skilled H-1B visa holders entry into the US. The administration has even explored the possibility of removing international students’ ability to work for up to three years in the US after they graduate.

In February 2019, the White House announced intentions to strengthen US leadership in artificial intelligence but did little more than reiterate that tech companies will face little regulation regarding AI development. Earlier this year, it proposed that $2 billion be directed to general AI and quantum research by 2022, and it looks like it’s now taking the first steps towards that goal.

Five of the new research centers embedded with the Department of Energy will receive $625 million in funding for topics like quantum networking (as in a “quantum Internet“), quantum computing, special sensors, and exotic materials. Private companies like Microsoft and IBM and academia will contribute a further $300 million towards those labs.

The other seven research centers will be led by the National Science Foundation and will receive $140 million in funding from the $1.2 billion allocated for the National Quantum Initiative Act. These institutes will focus on finding new ways to improve materials manufacturing, weather forecasting, and precision agriculture, among other things.

White House Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios said in a press statement that “It is absolutely imperative the United States continues to lead the world on AI and quantum. We know our adversaries around the world are pursuing their own advances. […] The future of American economic prosperity and national security will be shaped by how we invest, research, develop and deploy these cutting-edge technologies today.”

The chances of achieving these goals are getting slimmer every year. The EU has committed to investing $1.7 billion on AI research by the end of this year, and China is spearheading plans to establish as many as 50 research centers for its own ambitious goals. Countries like France, Germany, Russia, and South Korea are also investing over $1 billion each for similar programs, but see China as a more significant threat than the US on AI, 5G, and quantum science.

Image credit: Mark Reinstein

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