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Trump admin launches National AI Initiative Office

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The White House today announced the launch of its National AI Initiative Office, marking what should be President Trump‘s final manipulation of the country’s gutted Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

According to an OSTP press release:

The Office is charged with overseeing and implementing the United States national AI strategy and will serve as the central hub for Federal coordination and collaboration in AI research and policymaking across the government, as well as with private sector, academia, and other stakeholders.

Background: Over the course of the Trump presidency, the OSTP was whittled down from a record 135 staffers under President Barack Obama to a mere 35. While the office itself operated under a skeleton crew, it’s still managed to create a budgetdefine policy for, and legislate the implementation of the National AI Initiative Office.

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In effect this simply codifies what the White House has been doing since day one of the Trump presidency, namely sending lucrative contracts to Trump-friendly AI vendors such as the Peter Thiel-backed Palantir or the controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI.

This is because, back in 2018, Trump essentially made himself the country’s official AI advisor. As I wrote at the time:

The person elected POTUS is, by default, a co-chair of the [National Science and Technology Council] NSTC. Without a director or a fellow co-chair, Trump officially advises himself. This gives him unilateral control over the entire committee, with the option to defer judgment to junior members.

Quick take: The office’s guidelines are pretty much toothless in that they require the organization to pursue the adoption of ethics policies, but don’t actually direct nor make specific suggestions concerning the country’s AI practices. In other words, the office is under orders to pursue ethical AI but has no remedy for directing the ethical use of AI by the US government.

While details of the exact machinations of the National AI Initiative Office are scarce, it stands to reason legislating its existence in the final days of the Trump presidency will make it more difficult for the incoming Joe Biden administration to extricate the country from its current deals with the private sector.

We reached out to the White House and OSTP for comment but were referred to today’s press release.

Published January 12, 2021 — 17:42 UTC

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