There’s no question that national security is of the utmost importance when it comes to keeping us safe from outside threats. From securing borders to keeping troops as safe as possible when they are in combat zones, the US prioritizes American safety and security.

Until 2019, though, the US government did so without officially focusing on finding ways to implement AI technology into our national security strategy.

To address these concerns, on Monday, January 11, 2019, President Trump signed an “American AI Initiative” executive order. It is designed to provide a federal agency focused on AI research and development intended to keep the US on a direct path to continued technology leadership.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House published an article explaining the five key areas outlined in the executive order to help AI leadership grow in the United States. They are:

Investing in AI Research and Development (R&D) in corporations, academia, and government on products and ideas that will benefit Americans.

Unleashing AI Resources to make AI data and models more available to American R&D Experts. The increased value AI provides bears a higher responsibility to maintain safety, security, civil liberties, privacy, and confidentiality protections.

Setting AI Governance Standards and guidelines that will foster trust for AI development as it is used across sensitive industries, including healthcare, banking, and public transportation.

Building the AI workforce. The National Council for the American Worker will provide programs and fellowships for American workers to help them achieve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills that are needed for AI applications.

International Engagement and Protecting our AI Advantage against strategic competitors and foreign adversaries.

The US has always outpaced other countries in significant technological advancements. Today, American companies such as Google and Amazon lead the world in AI. They do this by attracting the best AI talent. However, In Summer 2017, China developed a plan to become the world leader in AI, with an industry worth $150 billion by 2030. It took until 2019 for the US to respond to this competitive manifesto.

According to a report put out by the Congressional Research Service, China plans to use AI to develop self-driving military equipment and to make faster, more informed governmental decisions.

The United States also plans to use AI for military purposes, which sounds great at first but could lead to dire consequences. The report recognizes that, while AI could provide options for autonomous military vehicles and allow for faster decision making, there are still a number of concerns that we need to consider before going all-in on using AI for national security. The technology could be unpredictable, and it could potentially open us up to external vulnerabilities that could put our military and civilian population at a higher risk rather than keeping us safer.

By prioritizing training future generations to understand and implement AI technology, the hope is that the United States will be able to stay economically competitive while protecting its borders and enhancing national security measures.

While many technology experts are pleased that the US government has officially addressed AI initiatives, there is trepidation that there were no funds allocated to achieve these goals. The US must implement the guidelines and programs outlined in the executive order to address civil liberty concerns. Time will tell if AI research efforts maintain US leadership in this transformative technology.

The fact that so much is left unknown and untested when it comes to AI and national security is kind of exciting. It means there are lots of opportunities available now for anyone interested in becoming more fluent in AI. It also leaves a lot of room open for innovation. In the summer of 2019, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) put out a call for innovative ideas, candidly stating that they “need to hear original, creative ideas that challenge the status quo, shake our assumptions, and will cause us to reconsider the arguments we’ve already heard and hear new arguments in a different light.”

Nine essays were accepted, which discuss challenges with AI, such as vulnerabilities, training the workforce for AI, and finding ways to use AI for peace instead of war. The next step will be for some of the selected essayists to present their research findings and innovative ideas to the Commission, which reports to Congress. At the time of writing this book, there has not been a date set yet for when Congress will hear these ideas.

The challenges facing governments and militaries will not be solved overnight. Anyone who is interested in AI and wants to discover new ways to use it for national security should take action now, while new ideas are being circulated and discussed at all levels of government.