The Politics of AI is Surging: Operators Must Be Aware of National Security Dimensions

Ron Westfall – Research Director, Global Technology Telecom and Software

Summary Bullets:                

  • In May, the Trump administration formed a Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, convened under National Science and Technology Council – sending a clear message that AI is a vital technology in determining the future direction of the U.S.
  • The AI task force ensures AI development will definitely take on a political dimension – especially on defense issues – but the benefits to key U.S. technology segments such as telecommunications is uncertain.

At a White House Forum on AI held in May, the Trump Administration announced the formation of a new White House AI Task Force. The new “select committee” will comprise senior R&D officials in the federal government, who will be tasked with advising the White House on interagency AI R&D priorities; consider the creation of federal partnerships with industry and academia; establish structures to improve government planning and coordination of AI R&D; and identify opportunities to leverage federal “big data” to support a growing national AI R&D ecosystem.

In short, the Task Force has the potential to drive AI-enabled technological innovation and development. But whether it really does that – or becomes politicized – remains to be seen, as does its direct effect on the telecommunications industry.

Recent advances in decades-old AI technology are promising dramatic technological breakthroughs in virtually every aspect of society, including opening up new innovations and frontiers in the telecommunications segment as well as science and medicine. Operators are also lining up to use AI to drive innovation throughout their organizations including the launch of new digital services and augmenting the customer experience. For example:

  • AT&T’s Atticus entertainment chatbot, working through the Facebook Messenger application, uses AI to recognize speech and automate the handling of customer requests.
  • Verizon is using AI to automate service and delivery tasks, including augmenting the capabilities of the company’s managed SD-WAN and WLAN services and plans to use AI to develop network correlation, network management and deep skill security functions.
  • T-Mobile is using AI to power its Automated Customer Care Resolution (ACCR) tool, enabling the operator’s customer care reps to accelerate technical resolutions with increased accuracy.

 

However, the new AI Task Force does not automatically ensure that the intended AI policy objectives will be accomplished. Critics claim it is merely a political response to massive, high-profile AI initiatives from countries like China. However, to its credit the U.S. has steadily increased its focus on AI over the past few years. The U.S. government’s investment in unclassified R&D has grown over 40% since 2015 (not to mention classified investments in the intelligence and defense realms.)  The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request is the first to designate AI and related autonomous and unmanned systems as U.S. government R&D priorities. On the other hand, critics points out that new U.S. immigration rules will make it harder for non-U.S. AI experts to work in the U.S., despite clear international AI R&D collaboration through first-ever Science and Technology (S&T) agreements with allies United Kingdom and France, potentially alleviating international collaboration issues.

Overall the new White House AI Task Force serves many masters. The U.S. government is looking to harness AI to advance U.S. economic competitiveness and technological innovation in sectors such as telecommunications, but the U.S. is also anxious to counter the vast AI funding and backing of adversarial governments like China. Equally important, the AI Task Force is boosting the funding of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and workforce training to address societal concerns that AI-driven automation kills jobs, disrupting workforce continuity. The key to the AI Task Force’s long-term success is demonstrating its presence will bolster the U.S. economy and national security while also easing workforce transitioning to emerging AI-driven industries like digital service creation, robotics, and connected drones.

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