The White House is pushing to spend an extra billion dollars to fund artificial intelligence research, doubling the budget for that purpose outside of Defense Department spending, Reuters reported today, citing people who have been informed about the plan. The investment in quantum processing would also receive an important boost.
The budget proposal for 2021 is said to raise AI R&D funding to nearly $ 2 billion, and to around $ 860 million in the next two years.
The US is doing what some describe as a “race” with China in the AI field, but unlike most races, it has no real finish. Instead, any serious lead means opportunities in business and military applications that can grow into the next global monopoly, a la Google or Facebook – that, as quasi-sovereign powers, invest heavily in the field for their own purposes.
Simply doubling the budget is not a panacea to take the lead, if there is anyone who can, but deploying AI in new fields is not without costs and an increase in subsidies and other direct financing makes it almost certain possible to apply the technology on a larger scale. Machine learning has proven to be useful for a wide variety of purposes and for many researchers and laboratories it is a natural next step – but expertise and processing power cost money.
It is not clear how the funds would be spent; it is possible that existing programs such as the federal Small Business Innovation Research Awards are extended with this subject in mind, or that direct funding to research centers such as the National Labs is increased.
Research in the field of quantum computing and related fields is also expensive. Google's milestone of achieving “quantum superiority,” or so the claim goes, is just the beginning for science and neither the hardware nor the software involved have much in the way of precedents.
Moreover, the quantum computers as they currently exist and in the near future have very few valuable applications, which means that pursuing them is only an investment in the most optimistic sense. However, government financing through the SBIR and similar grants are intended to remove exactly this type of research from risk.
The proposed budget for NASA is also expected to receive a major increase to accelerate and reinforce various efforts within the Artemis Moon landing program. It was not immediately clear how these funds would be collected or from where they would be re-used.