12-02-2020 5:25 am Published by Nederland.ai Leave your thoughts

President Trump Monday proposed to limit federal research spending, except in important areas such as artificial intelligence and quantum technology.

Trump budget for the fiscal year starting October 1 proposes spending $ 142.2 billion in research and development, 9 percent less than in the current year. The White House says its proposal is 6 percent more than it requested last year.

The budget request is something of a gambler's approach to financing American innovation, which bets large in select areas. “I find it disappointing and in terms of funding fundamental research,” says Martijn Rasser, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a policy think tank in Washington, DC. “We just don't know where the next breakthrough will come from.”

The budget goes all-in on AI and quantum, and proposes to double funding across departments, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, Darpa, and the DoD's Joint AI Center.

At the same time, the president suggested cutting research expenses in almost every arm of the government, including by $ 424 million at the National Science Foundation, $ 4.7 billion at the Defense Department, and $ 3.2 billion at the Department of Energy.

Rasser says it is good to see proposed funding for AI and quantum boost, since both are critical new areas. He recently co-authored a report calling for substantially more government funding for AI, noting that technology can transform the industry the way the software did it.

But Rasser is concerned that reducing the overall funding for fundamental research will undermine progress and growth, as innovations can come from many areas. “It's just not a good trajectory,” he says.

The President's budget is a proposal and is likely to be amended by Congress. But the plan provides an approach to scientific research that gives priority to areas that are seen as crucial to international competition and military benefit. AI and quantum technologies have received significant investments from America's major geopolitical rival, China, and both are being hired by Beijing urgently.

AI has emerged as a powerful technology, with large technology companies investing billions in its development and using it to build everything from self-driving cars to voice assistants.

Quantum computing and communication technologies, built on the peculiar properties of quantum physics, are much less proven, although they have the potential to deliver the same amount of yield one day. For example, a quantum version of the internet should guarantee perfect security, while quantum computers could now crack unsolvable problems with relative ease.

During the time that Trump was in the office, AI and quantum technologies have become more and more focus areas. In February 2019, the president launched the US AI initiative, which outlined a national strategy for AI leadership. And Trump signed the National Quantum Initiative Act in December 2018, increasing funding for quantum computing and communication.

Today, there are many AI researchers who have a high demand for AI and are increasingly able to secure government funding. But some are wary of the White House plan.

“It looks like a mixed blessing,” said Subbarao Kambhampati, an AI professor at Arizona State University and a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

Kambhampati notes that the financial resources allocated to AI seem to be focused on directing fundamental work in AI, which will help to make new progress in the field. “I'm happy to see funding for fundamental research,” he says.

The President's budget is a proposal and is likely to be amended by Congress. But the plan provides an approach to scientific research that gives priority to areas that are seen as crucial to international competition and military benefit. AI and quantum technologies have received significant investments from America's major geopolitical rival, China, and both are being hired by Beijing urgently.

AI has emerged as a powerful technology, with large technology companies investing billions in its development and using it to build everything from self-driving cars to voice assistants.

Quantum computing and communication technologies, built on the peculiar properties of quantum physics, are much less proven, although they have the potential to deliver the same amount of yield one day. For example, a quantum version of the internet should guarantee perfect security, while quantum computers could now crack unsolvable problems with relative ease.

During the time that Trump was in the office, AI and quantum technologies have become more and more focus areas. In February 2019, the president launched the US AI initiative, which outlined a national strategy for AI leadership. And Trump signed the National Quantum Initiative Act in December 2018, increasing funding for quantum computing and communication.

Today, there are many AI researchers who have a high demand for AI and are increasingly able to secure government funding. But some are wary of the White House plan.

“It looks like a mixed blessing,” said Subbarao Kambhampati, an AI professor at Arizona State University and a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

Kambhampati notes that the financial resources allocated to AI seem to be focused on directing fundamental work in AI, which will help to make new progress in the field. “I'm happy to see funding for fundamental research,” he says.

But he warns that cutting funding for other research areas can not only undermine progress in other areas, but can also have a knock-on effect on AI, since progress often comes from other areas. For example, research into animal brains can inspire new designs for artificial neural networks. “Neuroscience will really be relevant to AI in the longer term,” he says.

Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, defended the proposed drop in research funding in a call with reporters. “President Trump has made it very clear that investing in basic research at an early stage is extremely important and this budget does that,” Droegemeier said. “I think it is a very responsible act by President Trump to ensure that we give priority to activities that are of great importance, especially in relation to the major power competition.”

Dario Gil, director of IBM research and member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, states that government investment in AI will boost scientific discoveries in general and thereby help advance research in other areas. “The goal is to speed up the discovery,” he says. “That will penetrate every sector of the economy and national defense.”

Gil also suggests that, just like the Internet before, quantum computers and communication networks can have unforeseen consequences. “We need to see a significant acceleration in investment, and this is a very good step in the direction,” he says.

He may be right, but it is difficult to choose the winners in research and innovation. As Rasser says: “With fundamental research you never know what will happen.”

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