For decades, the U.S. has been the global leader in technology research, development and implementation. But the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) technology has enabled other countries to aggressively challenge U.S. leadership. Because AI technologies enable greater, smarter automation, leading in that area will provide economic and military superiority. On Monday, President Trump highlighted the importance of AI’s role in “maintaining the economic and national security” of the U.S. and signed an executive order called The American AI Initiative.
The initiative emphasizes that the U.S. will:
- Invest in R&D by directing agencies to make AI a priority.
- Share federal resources by directing agencies to share research results, data, and computing resources with the private sector and academia.
- Foster public trust by calling for agencies to develop and maintain approaches for the safe and trustworthy creation and adoption of new AI technologies.
- Train workers by directing agencies to make AI education and job training a priority.
- Engage internationally while protecting national interests by instructing practitioners to share research while protecting U.S. national and economic security interests.
This appears to be a response to challenges other countries, especially China, have launched to the U.S.’s traditional dominance in AI and other technical research. The Chinese government has invested heavily in AI and related technologies and skills — placing large bets on software from technology giants like Baidu and Alibaba that it expects will form the foundation of the country’s future technology. A recent policy blueprint from the Chinese government calls for China to become the world leader in AI innovation by 2030.
Data is the fuel on which AI thrives. Chinese companies, researchers and government agencies have a great deal of data available to them because of the country’s large population, ubiquitous online connectivity for commerce and social interactions and high social tolerance for surveillance and data gathering. China also has a robust entrepreneurial culture and infrastructure ready to build AI-based businesses. ISG research shows that Cloud adoption will further lessen the demand for capital expenditure, and emerging technologies like AI, blockchain and the internet of things (IoT) will enhance demand for platform digitization and application modernization. This demand will drive enterprises to outsource or avail themselves of consulting services so they can boast new capabilities and remain competitive in the market.
AI has moved from research and discovery to implementation. In discussions with clients, ISG observes growing interest in and uses of AI in most industries and for a variety of functions, from simple customer service chatbots to self-driving vehicles. Recent ISG research shows that people involved in robotic process automation (RPA) believe AI technology skills for deploying and maintaining automations are most important to the future of automation and that there will be a high demand for talent that can help make business decisions that complement their RPA technology. By using IoT and AI in payment methods, for example, banks are working to transform their back-end processes and integrate them with front-end systems to develop a holistic and robust finance operation. But many enterprises are very early in their adoption of these new tools.
What the White House’s executive order doesn’t tackle is the significant issues enterprises face when venturing into AI. Many enterprises face the challenge of building the machine learning infrastructure they need to produce strong business results while the technical requirements keep changing. A federal mandate to prioritize AI may help enterprises, but machine learning is a rapidly changing field that requires enterprises to think critically about their investments in infrastructure and build an agile environment capable of adjusting to shifts in technology that can require massive computing power.
Furthermore, tech workers, like those at Google for example, have organized over the past two years to obstruct certain uses of AI — especially by the military, law enforcement and intelligence communities, which is likely to make information sharing even more difficult. The order stops short of laying out explicit plans for implementation of the goals it sets forth, so its final impact is unclear.
While the executive order could help enterprises gain improved access to U.S. federal AI resources, most enterprises don’t yet know where to begin with this emerging technology. ISG helps enterprises get started with AI, whether it means discussing its potential applications or figuring out proper steps to move forward.
About the authors
Ron’s research agenda is on the cutting edge of location intelligence, the Internet of Things and application modernization with analysis of market trends, provider positioning, deployment challenges and opportunities. With a passion for bridging the gap between business and technology, Ron helps deliver go-to-market strategies for enterprise solution providers in data science, data management, cloud services and analytics. He also works with vendors to develop and execute sales/marketing strategies, competitive analyses, product roadmaps, profit and loss analyses and pricing plans. His integrated systems view means he looks across technologies and business areas to evaluate true market potential and affects. Ron has authored dozens of thought leadership reports for the ISG Insights service.
Blair Hanley Frank is a technology analyst covering cloud computing, application development modernization, AI, and the modern workplace.