The global spread of coronavirus has brought sectors such as hospitality and education to their knees while accelerating investments in other areas. Businesses and governments alike are making digital investment decisions in days, where before they may have been debated for months, often using off-the-shelf situations and shaping them to their own needs. It is likely that the need for advancements in digital operations will continue to accelerate in a society that functions digitally more than ever before.
This means that the time is right for the US government to step forward, rather than back, when it comes to investments in artificial intelligence (AI). The US should not compromise on its position as the global leader in AI, especially as China continues to close ground.
President Trump’s 2021 budget increases spending in federal research and development by 6% on last year to $142.2B. Within this he has committed to double spending in non-defence AI and quantum information science by 2022. Here, we discuss five areas that will have the biggest benefit.
1. Better access to better healthcare
Where healthcare is expensive or hard to access, such as in rural communities, AI presents a lifeline. By introducing AI systems that can diagnose patients and refer only the patients that need it most to a human specialist, costs can come down while the quality of care goes up. According to Kevin Scott, Microsoft chief technology officer, biometric sensing and predictive models could also help detect disease earlier.
With coronavirus shining a light on how important robust healthcare services are, investing in this area is key to tackling the threats of both today and tomorrow.
2. Improved communications
The President’s Management Agenda calls for improved customer service. It states all federal agencies will provide a modern, streamlined and responsive customer experience across government, crucially comparable to leading private-sector organizations, as that’s what the US population now expects.
These communication improvements can be internal, such as by using programmes driven by AI like Microsoft Teams, to aid seamless collaboration between departments. Or they can be external, such as managing enquiries with proactive automated conversations. Both have proven cost-saving benefits and are essential in freeing up employee time for more rewarding tasks.
3. Expanding 5G spectrum sharing
Though not specifically an AI technology, 5G is required to maximise the benefits of the majority of investments. For this reason, Amazon, Google and Microsoft have made recommendations about how the US government should invest, which includes congress passing the $750m Telecommunications Act to encourage 5G research and open up access to radio networks. Their report described 5G as a the ‘connective tissue’ between AI platforms and is “a critical component of overall leadership in AI”.
4. Invest in microelectronics manufacturing
“At present, the US government does not have trusted access to state-of-the-art microelectronics manufacturing,” states the report by Amazon, Google and Microsoft. It recommends that the government invest $600m in two programmes – DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative and the US Navy’s Trusted and Assured Microelectronics program. This will secure access to semiconductor hardware such as FGPAs, ASIC chips and GPUs.
It is likely that part of the Western world’s response to coronavirus will be to begin to safeguard manufacturing by bringing more back to within its borders. Shoring up access to the components that enable AI technologies is the first logical step.
5. Allocating resources
From disaster relief to economic upheaval, when the worst happens the right decisions need to be made quickly. By utilising AI to make suggestions when support is needed, how much to provide and where, technology can radically reduce any humanitarian and economic impact. There are some fantastic trials out there, such as using AI between drones to find survivors during disasters. These must be given the funding to reach their full potential.
The US government is in a race for AI dominance. It currently has the lead, but coronavirus could upturn the playing field. With smart, effective investments in AI, the US can consolidate its position, but only if it keeps the needs of society in mind. By spending money to lead the world in the above areas, the US government can make sure that its investments have instant benefits and are sustainable.