06-01-2020 7:19 am Published by Nederland.ai Leave your thoughts

The US will impose new restrictions on the export of certain AI programs abroad, including to China.

The ban, which comes into force on Monday, is the first to be applied under a law from 2018 known as the Export Control Reform Act or ECRA. This requires the government to investigate how it can restrict exports of “emerging” technologies that are “essential to the national security of the United States” – including AI. The news of the ban was first reported by Reuters.
“The ban is extremely narrow – a relief for the AI industry ”

When ECRA was announced in 2018, some in the technology industry feared that it would be harmful to the field of artificial intelligence, which would greatly benefit from the exchange of research and commercial programs across borders. Although the US is generally regarded as the world leader in AI, China is in second place and is rapidly gaining popularity.

But the new export ban is extremely limited. It only applies to software that uses neural networks (an important part of machine learning) to discover “points of interest” in geospatial images; things like houses or vehicles. The ruling, issued by the Office for Industry and Safety, notes that the restriction applies only to software with a graphical user interface – a function that makes programs easier to operate for non-technical users.

Reuters reports that companies must apply for licenses to export such software, except when it is sold to Canada.

The US has previously imposed other trade restrictions that affect the AI world, including a ban on US companies doing business with Chinese companies that produce software and hardware that enable AI monitoring.

The use of machine learning to process geospatial images is a very common practice. Satellites that photograph the Earth from space produce enormous amounts of data, which can be sorted quickly by machine learning to mark interesting images for human overseers.

Such programs are useful for many customers. For example, environmentalists can use the technology to monitor the spread of forest fires, while financial analysts can use the technology to track the movements of cargo ships from a port, creating a proxy metric for trade volume.

But such software is also becoming increasingly important for the military intelligence service. For example, the US is developing an AI analysis tool called Sentinel, which should emphasize “anomalies” in satellite images. For example, it could mark the movements of troops and rockets, or suggest areas that human analysts should examine in detail.

Regardless of the importance of this software, it is unlikely that an export ban will have much effect on the development of these instruments by China or other rivals. Although certain programs can be limited, the underlying research is often freely available online, allowing engineers to simulate all software themselves.

Reuters notes that while the restriction will only affect US exports, the US authorities could try to encourage other countries to follow this example, as they did with the restrictions on Huawei's 5G technology. Future export bans could also have consequences for more types of AI software.

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