President Trump is seeking to bring his “America First” posture to artificial intelligence, as the White House seeks billions in federal money to defend the country’s No. 1 position in the field from global competitors including China.

The president’s proposed budget for the coming year includes $1.03 billion in non-defense spending for AI research and another $749 million by defense agencies. Within the next two years, annual spending on AI would rise to more than $2 billion, the Wall Street Journal said. Research into super-powerful quantum computing also would get a large boost in federal spending.

The figures include more than $830 million for AI research at the National Science Foundation, a 70% increase. The departments of Defense, Agriculture and Energy would all get more money for AI as well. On the defense side, DARPA, the Defense Department’s research arm, would get a 12% boost to $459 million in AI R&D, while the Defense Department’s joint AI Center would get another 20% for a total $290 million.

“There’s no doubt that competitors such as China are making serious investments and strategies in an effort to wrest AI and quantum computing leadership,” Stephen Ezell, vice president of global innovation policy at the think tank the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, told the Journal.

Artificial intelligence is already revolutionizing vast sectors of the economy, from the financial world to healthcare to education and manufacturing. The first AI-designed medicine is slated to enter clinical trials, while almost four out of five senior executives at financial firms and fintech companies said in a recent survey that AI will be of major strategic importance in two years.

Investors have seen the potential of AI and are supporting the revolution. Last year, 1,356 AI-related startups in the U.S. raised a record $18.5 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

Security experts, worried that the U.S. would fall behind China in this type of research, pushed for the higher spending, according to MIT Technology Review.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, which is responsible for drafting appropriations bills, can alter Trump’s requests or ignore them completely. 

  • More than a dozen countries including France, Canada and South Korea, have launched national AI strategies in recent years. Trump last year signed the American AI Initiative, an executive order that called for federal agencies to dedicate existing funds and data to support  AI research and commercialization.
  • Ezell told the Journal that China wants to establish itself as the world’s primary AI innovation center and generate $60 billion in output from AI-based industries by 2025.
  • Private investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning fell last year for the first time since 2014, according to PitchBook data. Venture capitalists spent $37.7 billion on AI-focused startups in 2019, a 9% decrease from 2018. Private equity only invested $6.13 billion in the field last year, about half of 2018.