Home IssueArtificial Intelligence The Most Significant AI Policy Developments in the United States in 2019

The Most Significant AI Policy Developments in the United States in 2019

by Daniel Castro
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U.S. flags waving in the wind against the backdrop of a blue sky.

2019 was a monumental year for artificial intelligence (AI) policy in the United States. The federal government took several important steps that prioritized AI development and deployment and positioned the United States to strengthen its global AI leadership, beginning with President Trump’s “Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence,” which set the tone for the rest of the year.

February 11: President Trump issued Executive Order 13859, “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence,” which launched the American AI Initiative, the official U.S. national AI strategy. The initiative includes five pillars: investing in AI research and development, making federal AI resources more available, setting standards for AI, training an AI workforce, and promoting a pro-innovation international environment. It prioritizes cooperation with the private sector, academia, the general public, and other countries. The executive order stresses the importance of “continued American leadership” in AI to “maintaining the economic and national security of the United States,” as President Trump wrote in a press release accompanying the order.

April 2: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a proposed regulatory framework for AI-based software as a medical device, including as a tool for disease detection, diagnosis, targeted therapies, or personalized medicine. As more medical devices incorporate AI to improve patient outcomes, the FDA plans to update its rules regarding premarket approval to keep up with technological innovation in the healthcare sector. In the premarket approval process, medical device manufacturers must demonstrate to the FDA that a device is safe and effective in order to market the device in the United States.

May 22: The United States, along with the OECD’s thirty-five other member countries and six non-member countries, signed the OECD Principles on Artificial Intelligence. The principles include inclusivity and sustainability, human-centered values and fairness, transparency and explainability, security and safety, and accountability. The OECD recommends that signatory governments invest in AI research and development, promote digital technologies and infrastructure and mechanisms for sharing data, foster pro-innovation policy environments, prepare for workforce transitions, and cooperate on international initiatives. OECD recommendations like the Principles on Artificial Intelligence are not legally binding, but they set an international standard that governments use to inspire their own national efforts.

June 21: The White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) released its 2019 update to “The National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan,” which builds upon the first principle of Executive Order 13859, investing in AI research and development. The plan identifies eight strategic priorities for the United States, seven of which were carried over from previous updates and the eighth of which is a new addition. The priorities emphasize long-term investments, the future of work, ethics, security, access to data, technical standards, the research and development workforce, and public-private partnerships.

July 10: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published a request for information that gave the public thirty days to comment on the “needs for additional access to, or improvements in the quality of, Federal data and models that would improve the Nation’s artificial intelligence (AI) research and development (R&D) and testing efforts.” Executive Order 13859 required the OMB to publish this notice within ninety days of the date of the order.

July 31: The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) released an initial report outlining early activity to survey U.S. leadership in AI. Congress established the NSCAI with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 to advance the development of AI and address related national security and defense needs. In the first half of 2019, the NSCAI worked on issues including maintaining U.S. leadership in AI research and national security applications, preparing the American workforce for an AI-enabled future, and enhancing international competitiveness and cooperation in AI.

August 9: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a plan calling for “deeper, consistent, long-term” federal engagement in the development of AI technical standards. Specifically, it calls on federal agencies to bolster their knowledge of and leadership and coordination on AI standards, to promote research into AI standards, to engage in public-private partnerships in AI standards-setting, and to advance U.S. AI standards in the international arena. Executive Order 13859 required NIST to issue this plan within 180 days of the date of the order.

August 27: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a request for comments on patenting “AI inventions”—inventions developed by AI, instead of by a “natural person” or company—giving the public until November 8 to submit their views on the impact of AI on patent-related issues like copyright, trademark, and intellectual property rights. The request included 13 questions surrounding how copyright law should apply to AI inventions.

September 6: Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced the establishment of the Department of Energy (DOE) Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office (AITO), which will coordinate any work the department does in AI. The DOE established the office as a response to Executive Order 13859 and to what Secretary Perry called “the Golden Age of AI,” during which the federal government will need to expand its AI capabilities and form AI partnerships in order to maintain America’s global leadership in AI.

September 9: The White House hosted the Summit on Artificial Intelligence in Government, which brought together over 175 leaders and experts for a discussion on AI in the federal government. The event highlighted how the government, industry, and academia can collaborate on AI and jointly develop best practices, as well as the importance of workforce development to equip federal government employees with AI skills. Michael Kratsios, Chief Technology Officer of the U.S., announced the administration’s plan to use a Center of Excellence model to facilitate cooperation between federal agencies on AI.

September 10: The National Science and Technology Council released a supplemental report to the President’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget for the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program. The program includes an AI component that will coordinate long-term federal investments in AI research and development, promote human-AI collaboration, develop shared public datasets for training and testing, create standards and best practices, emphasize ethics and security, and expand public-private partnerships.

September 27: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released draft guidance for clinical decision support (CDS) software, or “technology that provides [healthcare providers] and patients with knowledge and person-specific information, intelligently filtered or presented at appropriate times, to enhance health and health care.” The guidance clarifies the FDA’s regulatory approach to CDS software and supplements its earlier proposed regulatory framework on AI-based software as a medical device. The draft guidance was open to public comment for 90 days after its publication.

November 5: The NSCAI released an interim report updating Congress on its progress since its July report. The report explained the importance of AI development and adoption for national security, arguing that the U.S. needs to remain at the frontlines of technological innovation to maintain its military and economic advantage. It also laid out five areas for the U.S. to focus its efforts: investing in AI research and development, applying AI to national security, training and recruiting AI talent, protecting and building upon American technology advantages, and encouraging global cooperation on AI.

November 20: The NSTC released the “2016-2019 Progress Report: Advancing Artificial Intelligence R&D,” which documents federal agencies’ recent progress in advancing AI research and development, evaluating them according to the eight strategies outlined in its 2016 and 2019 strategic plans. The report concluded that the state of federal AI research and development is strong, and that these investments have “generated impactful breakthroughs that are revolutionizing our society for the better.”

December 5: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established the National Artificial Intelligence Institute (NAII), a joint initiative between its Office of Research and Development and Center for Strategic Partnerships. The NAII will lead the department’s AI research and development efforts, identifying ways the VA can use AI to better serve veterans and their families, including by reducing wait times and helping doctors interpret patient data and make informed decisions. Its establishment came in the wake of National Veterans and Military Families Month in November.

Image: brianareedcummings

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