US vs UK: Who's better prepared for AI?

Yanks have the edge on selling it to the public

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Analysis Research in AI is expanding quickly, and the UK and US governments have begun to notice. Official reports about the new technology and future strategies were dropped by both governments this month.

Blighty’s Science and Technology Committee released Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, while the White House delivered Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence and National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan.

The titles of the British and American reports provide a clue as to how both governments are responding. There is no "preparing" or "strategic plan" in the UK’s reports. The committee found leadership from the British government has been “noticeably lacking”.

Despite hailing Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) as one of the government's "Eight Great Technologies", the report suggests that the UK is not as committed or prepared for the effects of AI compared to the US.

So, what's the plan?

Both governments have flagged up the need to address the employment, ethical, social and legal issues AI brings, but the Yanks have something the Brits are missing: a strategic plan rooted in R&D to tackle them.

The UK promised to establish a RAS council in March 2015, but failed to deliver. The US doesn't have an official council for AI either, but the main federally funded research programme for IT, The Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD), did set up an AI task force to write a second official report.

The task force laid out a future strategy to foster a good human-AI relationship through R&D. It included making long-term funding investments and support research geared towards general AI – an area subject to scaremongering and science fiction.

The report shows the US has been investing in AI for over 50 years. It has funded research into deep learning since the 1960s and watched it transform into one of the best tools AI has today.

Limitations to AI research were also recognised in the separate report, The National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan. The US plans to develop shared public data sets for AI training and testing.

Data in AI has been described as “the new oil”. It’s a scarce commodity and a necessary component to train AI software to good standards. Companies with more access to data are able to tackle more complex problems and get ahead.

It’s why companies like Google DeepMind are so keen to get their hands on healthcare data, even if it means signing dodgy deals with public hospitals.

Strategy 6 for the US is to “Measure and Evaluate AI Technologies through Standards and Benchmarks”, an important step to overcoming the safety issues and ensure reliability.

Christopher Hart, chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board, has raised the same point for autonomous vehicles before.

Meanwhile, the Science and Technology Committee has criticised the UK government over its lack of preparation for such issues.

Although both countries share the same worries when it comes to AI – employment issues, safety and transparency, security, bias and improving trust – the reports show the US is faster to adapt to this emerging technology.

“It is disappointing that the Government has still not published its Digital Strategy and set out its plans for equipping the future workforce with the digital skills it needs to thrive,” the committee’s report said.

The lack of funding security for AI was also highlighted. Up to 80 per cent is provided by the EU, and if the cash flow stops after Brexit, research and industry will suffer.

Good for AI

Dr Joanna Bryson, an American AI researcher at the University of Bath and Princeton University, told The Register that the intended audience accounts for the difference in tone between both reports.

“The US report is trying to communicate to its citizens, whereas the UK one is trying to communicate to its own government. That’s why the US report included stuff about general AI because that’s what people are most concerned with."

It’s why the American report is much more positive and progressive, but the British report is more critical.

Bryson makes a good point as the White House report was timed just before Obama was due to host the White House’s Frontiers Conference.

The national event outlined the US government’s future in science and technology with Obama keen to pinpoint the potential of AI being harnessed as a powerful, beneficial tool.

“It’s positive sign for AI that both governments are starting to acknowledge the technology,” Bryson added.®

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