- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Trump administration said Wednesday it is building 12 new artificial intelligence and quantum information science institutes nationwide to “transform society” with $1 billion in awards over the next five years. The resulting investments will pool private sector resources and academia together in hopes of further innovation in key technological areas.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy have responsibility for administering the awards, which aim at all aspects of society from extreme weather preparedness to K-12 education.

“Today, the Trump administration is making an unprecedented investment to strengthen American leadership in AI and quantum, and to ensure the nation benefits from these emerging technologies,” said Michael Krastios, U.S. chief technology officer, in a statement. “Built upon the uniquely American free market approach to technological advancement, these institutes will be world-class hubs for accelerating American innovation and building the 21st century American workforce.”

As a result of the billion-dollar awards, the National Science Foundation said the benefits will flow to AI institutes collaborating with such places as the University of California-Davis, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Texas at Austin.

The Department of Energy’s quantum information science research centers will be established with the Argonne, Brookhaven, Fermi, Oak Ridge, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.

The Trump administration’s hefty push for a whole-of-society approach to data problems and AI and quantum solutions comes as China has emerged as a top rival. While the federal government has taken action to implement changes that will solve data computational problems, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has sought to create a new blueprint for the public and private sectors to solve data storage problems too.

Earlier this summer, Sens. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrat, and Rob Portman, Ohio Republican proposed legislation to gather technical experts from private industry to create a blueprint for a national research cloud. A shared-cloud computing platform nationwide would enable academic outsiders, such as those benefiting from the Trump administration’s new investments, to gain access to Big Tech companies’ cloud data centers.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Reps. Anna Eshoo, California Democrat, and Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio Republican, and large technology companies such as Google, IBM, and Microsoft have pushed the federal government to urgently solve the data storage problem as well.

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, former U.S. chief data scientist D.J. Patil said he thought the U.S. government had previously missed solving problems quickly by having data storage and computational systems closer together. Mr. Patil, who served in the Obama administration, said he thinks the United States is still learning how to approach data issues.

“My fear, my net fear, is that we get so hung up on trying to be dogmatic in one theory versus the other rather than finding a way to try and iterate and try and get a little bit better,” Mr. Patil said. “That is what’s going to hold back innovation for the country. That’s where we get hurt. If you look at the speed at which we’re moving to get things into the cloud versus other countries and particularly China, which has been very aggressive about this, they’re getting a competitive edge because of the way they approach it.”

Improvements to the nation’s technological systems by viewing them as part of America’s critical infrastructure has allies on both the political left and right, according to Aneesh Chopra, the first U.S. chief technology officer appointed by President Obama.

“Historically, infrastructure for economic growth had been in the form of roadways, railways, and runways,” Mr. Chopra said in an interview last month. “But there’s now a bipartisan consensus in the jobs and industries of the future that infrastructure moving forward looks a lot more like human talent, that’s why we invest in [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education, digital infrastructure, like this idea of a national research cloud, and some construct around communications infrastructure.”

Large-dollar investments in AI, quantum, and data solutions look likely to continue in the coming years, regardless of whether the Trump administration or a potential Biden administration controls the executive branch next year.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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