WASHINGTON – This week a U.S.-government backed commission of technology experts completed a three-year review of the country’s artificial intelligence capabilities, urging the development of a new national technology strategy to stay competitive with China.
The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) has been studying how artificial intelligence and machine learning can address U.S. national security and defense needs. It recommended spending billions of dollars more on research, diversifying the American industrial supply chain for microchips and other high-tech products, and reforming immigration policies to attract talented researchers and workers.
Some of those steps are under way. Republican and Democratic lawmakers are now focusing more on ways to address technological competition with China, following years in which officials say China carried out corporate espionage and forced technology transfers to rapidly advance its technological capabilities.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation aiming to help the U.S. government develop more technology partnerships with allies to counter China’s rise in artificial intelligence, 5G, quantum computing and other areas.
The bill, led by Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner, a former technology entrepreneur, would create a new interagency office within the State Department focusing on coordinating tech strategies with other democratic nations. It would also create a $5 billion fund supporting research projects between government and private companies.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged a bipartisan effort to draft a bill investing in disruptive new technologies to challenge China.
Also last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to conduct a 100-day review of the global supply chain used by four key industries to determine whether U.S. firms are replying too much on foreign suppliers, particularly those in China.
“I want this bill to address America’s short-term and long-term plans to protect the semiconductor supply chain, and to keep us number one in things like AI, 5G, quantum computing, biomedical research, [data] storage,” Schumer said in a weekly press conference on February 23.
“We cannot rely on foreign processors for the chips. We cannot let China get ahead of us in chip production,” the New York Democrat added.
Bipartisan support for US tech strategy
Schumer’s proposal is based on the Endless Frontier Act, introduced by Schumer and Republican Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, last May. The Endless Frontier Act seeks $100 billion to spur research in key tech areas, and the new and upgraded version, according to Young, its main sponsor, would include steps to diversify America’s supply chain.
“My office is working with Senator Schumer’s office, and members of the administration and many of my Republican colleagues, to try and incorporate some supply chain resiliency policies into the Endless Frontier Act,” Young told VOA Mandarin.
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told VOA Mandarin he believes the bill will receive broad bipartisan support.
“On the broad issue of China, supply chain is one element of it. But we are working on the broader issue of how do we both compete with China and how do we confront China,” Menendez said, “I think there’s plenty of room where there should be a common ground that we can come together.”
He added that he has been discussing America’s China policy with Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and the State Department is conducting its own comprehensive evaluation on current China policies.
“There’s a whole of government review vis-a-vis China, which I applaud,” Menendez told VOA.
Similar efforts are ongoing in the U.S. Congress, where several Republican legislators are pushing the White House to maintain former President Donald Trump’s hardline posture on China.
Representative Greg Steube, a Florida Republican, introduced the Keep Huawei on the Entity List Act on Wednesday, which would continue export controls and keep China’s telecommunication firm Huawei on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s entity list.
“Huawei is one of the most powerful tools that the Chinese Communist Party can use for espionage and potential destruction against the United States,” Steube said in a statement.
James Lankford, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, said that he and his colleagues have been talking with the White House about keeping some of the Trump-era policies on China.
“We want to make it very clear. And that policy shouldn’t be thrown aside just because they have the name Trump in front of them,” he told VOA. “If there were good policies, and they were good policies, and they should remain.”
Artificial intelligence for the future
The artificial intelligence report recommends that the Department of Defense must have the foundations in place by 2025 for widespread adoption of artificial intelligence systems.
The commission also addressed the ethics of using AI-enabled and autonomous weapons. For now, it said the Defense Department has adequate protections in place so that such weapons do not require a global ban and can continue to be used in accordance with international humanitarian law. It recommended establishing systems to build confidence in AI technology and keeping humans in the decision chain for deploying nuclear weapons.
Lin Yang contributed to this report.