French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to Washington highlighted how differently our two nations are thinking about the future. In March, the French government unveiled a national strategy for artificial intelligence technology that has a clear goal: make France a global leader in AI. In the last year, China and the European Union have taken similar steps. If we’re serious about having a prosperous economy for decades to come, the United States should do the same.
US Representative John K. Delaney (D-MD) (@RepJohnDelaney) is the founder of the AI Caucus and is the only former CEO of a publicly traded company in the House of Representatives.
The French strategy—ambitiously titled “For a Meaningful Artificial Intelligence”—was outlined in a comprehensive 147-page document authored by world-renowned mathematician and a member of French Parliament Cédric Villani. Importantly, the report shows the French government anticipating AI’s impact on the job market and attempting to get ahead of change so that their citizens can benefit. As President Macron recently told WIRED, “I think artificial intelligence will disrupt all the different business models and it’s the next disruption to come. So I want to be part of it. Otherwise I will just be subjected to this disruption without creating jobs in this country.”
France’s national strategy also reveals that Macron’s government is wrestling with how to ensure that AI supports inclusivity and diversity, and to make certain that its implementation is transparent. The French aren’t just theorizing; they’re taking action. France plans to invest 1.5 billion euros (almost $1.8 billion dollars) in the next five years in artificial intelligence research. The French are looking to create their own AI ecosystem, train the next generation of scientists and engineers, and make sure that their workforce is prepared for an automated future.
France isn’t alone. Last month, the European Union’s executive branch recommended its member states increase their public and private sector investment in AI. It also pledged billions in direct research spending. Meanwhile, China laid out its AI plan for global dominance last year, a plan that has also been backed up with massive investment. China’s goal is to lead the world in AI technology by 2030. Around the world, our global economic competitors are taking action on artificial intelligence.
It’s therefore striking that the United States doesn’t have a national artificial intelligence plan. Despite the recent private meeting with tech executives at the White House, the administration has taken little action in this area.
That’s why last year I joined with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate in introducing the Future of AI Act, the first bill of its kind to be introduced in Congress. The bill looks at some of the same key questions that the French have examined, because when you zoom out it is clear that these concerns are universal: How can we make sure that workers and society will benefit? How can we encourage and support economy-boosting and job-creating research? And how can we ensure that AI will be implemented ethically and without bias, while also protecting user privacy?
The legislation creates an advisory committee at the Department of Commerce composed of scientists, engineers, ethicists, and civil liberties experts, as well as representatives from labor groups, technology companies, and federal officials. The committee will have 18 months to issue recommendations on how to ensure that artificial intelligence is a positive for the country.
The United States needs a full assessment of the state of American research and technology, and what the short and long-term problems and opportunities are. The Future of AI Act, along with the work of the AI Caucus—a bipartisan group I founded—are all about starting the conversation. Right now, in the United States there’s an incredible discussion taking place about AI, automation, the future of work, and privacy—but all of that is taking place in the private sector, academia, and think tanks. Government is woefully behind. There’s no focus on the future.
The strength of the United States’ private sector makes us the envy of the world, but without a national strategy and increased public investment, we risk having a few companies control the most elemental science of the future. A healthy marketplace needs competition and innovation.
Elected officials need to look at the facts and work to find common ground. Whether you are a conservative or a progressive, this future is coming. As I look at where the world is headed, I believe that we need to expand public investment in research, encourage collaboration between the public and private sector, and make sure that AI is deployed in a way that is wholly consistent with our values and with existing laws.
Policymakers must understand that machine learning and automation’s impact on the economy and job market will mirror that of globalization. The US needs a plan to prepare the workforce to not only survive this change but thrive. The US also needs a much more prominent public debate over the policies around artificial intelligence, since this will be a massively influential technology. Today, we’re not even having the discussion. There’s no plan for where we want to go. China and France already have a plan. If the US doesn’t act, we’re in danger of falling behind.
WIRED Opinion publishes pieces written by outside contributors and represents a wide range of viewpoints. Read more opinions here.
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