Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to dramatically transform huge swathes of the economy and society for the better, and as the technology continues to make headlines many countries are developing plans to ensure they can take full advantage of these benefits. Below is a high-level overview of a number of national-level policies some countries have undertaken to take advantage on the technology. While it is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every policy initiative countries have launched around AI, it is meant to show the most significant ones.
Canada, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all taken high-profile steps towards advancing AI over the past two years. These range from prospective research about the potential impacts of AI to large amounts of funding and ambitious strategic plans to bolster national capacity to take advantage of the technology. While it appears the United States is the early leader in developing and adopting AI, many other countries are working diligently to surpass it as they recognize the importance that this technology will have on economic competitiveness.
In March 2017, Canada launched the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, to be led by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), a nonprofit research institute that receives government support. Backed by a one-time CAD $125 million (US $98.7 million) in government funding, the strategy has four goals: “increase the number of outstanding artificial intelligence researchers and skilled graduates in Canada; establish interconnected nodes of scientific excellence in Canada’s three major centres for artificial intelligence in Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto; develop global thought leadership on the economic, ethical, policy and legal implications of advances in artificial intelligence; and support a national research community on artificial intelligence.” CIFAR will oversee several programs over the next five years to advance the strategy that focus on expanding Canada’s human capital, raising Canada’s international profile in the field of AI research, and translating AI research into public and private-sector applications.
China’s State Council issued a development plan for AI in July 2017 with the goal of making China a leader in the field by 2030. The document is primarily a statement of intent, but it details some of China’s key objectives in advancing AI and creating a domestic AI industry worth ¥1 trillion (US $147.8 billion). The plan’s goal is for China to be equal to countries leading in AI by 2020. Then over the subsequent five years, China will focus on developing breakthroughs in areas of AI that will be a “a key impetus for economic transformation.” Finally, by 2030, China intends to be the world’s “premier artificial intelligence innovation center.” To support the development plan, China is also preparing a multibillion dollar investment initiative to promote AI startups, academic research, and moonshot projects.
Prime Minister Abe launched the Artificial Intelligence Technology Strategy Council in April 2016 to develop a roadmap for the development and commercialization of AI. The roadmap, called the Artificial Intelligence Technology Strategy was published in May 2017. The strategy outlines priority areas for research and development (R&D), focusing on the themes of productivity, mobility, and health, medical care, and mobility. The strategy also encourages collaboration between industry, government, and academia to advance AI research, as well as stresses the need for Japan to develop the necessary human capital to work with AI. Japan also launched its Japan Revitalization Strategy 2017, which details how the government will work to support growth in certain areas of the economy. The 2017 strategy includes a push to promote the development of AI telemedicine as well as the development of self-driving vehicles to help address the shortage of workers in Japan’s logistics sector.
The United Kingdom has taken several steps to better understand AI and identify ways the government could help secure its benefits. In October 2016, the House of Commons Science and technology Committee published a report on robotics and AI detailing many of the potential benefits and challenge AI could offer. One of the report’s main conclusions was that the United Kingdom should place a greater focus on improving its education and worker training systems to ensure that the national workforce has the necessary skills to be successful as AI transforms the economy. The report also stressed the need of increased government leadership around robotics and autonomous systems, citing a lack of a government strategy to coordinate policy-making and guide investment. In November 2016, the Government Office for Science published a report detailing the potential implications AI poses for society and government and stressed the need for smart, flexible governance to promote the responsible development of AI. The UK Digital Strategy, published in March 2017, recognizes AI as a key field that can help grow the United Kingdom’s digital economy, and includes £17.3 million (US $22.3 million) in funding for UK universities to develop AI technologies. Parliament also issued a call for evidence on the implications of AI in July 2017.
Like the United Kingdom, the U.S. government has taken many steps to better understand AI and identify the proper role for policymakers. In 2016, the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) hosted five workshops with academic leaders on different social, ethical, economic, and technological aspects of AI, and in June 2016, solicited public feedback about AI. In October 2016, OSTP published a report titled “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence” detailing its findings and recommending that the government pursue policies that can help maximize the economic and social benefits of AI. That same month, the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Subcommittee (NITRD) published its National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan detailing seven strategies to help guide AI R&D efforts, including “develop effective methods for human-AI collaboration,” “develop shared public datasets and environments for AI training and testing,” and “better understand the national AI R&D workforce needs.” Finally, in December 2016, the White House published a report titled “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy” reaffirming many of the recommendations from its prior efforts, particularly that the government should ensure the workforce is equipped with the skills to thrive in the transition to an AI-driven economy.
Of these efforts, China’s development plan for AI is the most ambitious. Though painted in broad strokes, it sends a strong signal that Chinese policymakers view AI as a crucial opportunity for their country. Interestingly, though both the United Kingdom and the United States have concluded that AI could be a great boon, neither thus far have launched strategic initiatives to support the technology. While these countries do have large private technology sectors and invest in AI R&D, they should recognize that to stay competitive, they should follow the lead of Canada, China, and Japan and craft a strategic approach to accelerate AI development and adoption, and prepare their workforce for the AI economy.