Federal government spending on artificial intelligence (AI) research and development (R&D) is poised to double in Fiscal Year 2020 from its total in calendar year 2016, U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios said today at an event organized by Politico.

Kratsios discussed the Trump administration’s budget figures released last week that show the administration is asking Congress to approve $973 million of unclassified, non-defense AI R&D spending for FY2020. By contrast, he said that Federal AI R&D spending in all categories totaled about $1 billion in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration.

While the CTO did not specify how much AI R&D spending the administration has proposed for defense and classified purposes for FY2020, he implied that amount is $1 billion or more, by stating that the FY2020 figure for all Federal AI R&D spending would be at least double the $1 billion total from 2016.

“In the course of three years, we have doubled – at minimum – the amount that the government spends” on AI R&D, Kratsios said.

He reiterated from the Trump administration’s AI Executive Order issued in February that the government has a major role to play in funding AI research that the private sector and academia won’t get to on their own. Kratsios said the government is involved in some “incredible research” with AI currently, including technical solutions to employ encryption to protect data that is used in AI processes.

On the domestic policy front, Kratsios said the next “big thing I would look for” from the administration is guidance to various Federal regulatory agencies about how and whether to regulate AI use in their areas of jurisdiction.

He didn’t tip his hand as to what that guidance may entail, but emphasized that the administration prefers a lighter-touch approach on technologies that are “born free” in the private sector and can be commercialized. “That’s the lens that we view the regulatory landscape” with, he said.  Kratsios added he hopes that U.S. regulatory AI policy will become a global standard.

On international issues, Kratsios acknowledged large investments in AI R&D by the Chinese government, and said it was “not in the least bit surprising” that China is trying to catch up and surpass the U.S. in R&D development.

But he staunchly defended U.S. leadership in the sector, saying the U.S. position was currently “dominant.” He continued, “We are by far the leader in the world on AI . . . But that doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels.”

Asked what he would do for a day if he was China in the AI arena, Kratsios replied, “I would be the United States.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.