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10 AI Legislative Successes Congress Had In 2020

by Hodan Omaar
US Capitol

The year of 2020 was an important one for artificial intelligence (AI) legislation in the United States. While a divided Congress resulted in inaction on many issues, policymakers on both sides of the aisle still came together to pass several bills aimed at strengthening the U.S. position in the global AI race, including a bill to infuse more AI experts into the Department of Defense (DOD) and a bill to conduct an annual study on deepfakes. Notably, of the 10 bills described below, 8 were included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense policy that Congress passed last week.

1. Creating a National Cloud Computing System for AI Research

The National AI Research Resource Task Force Act of 2020 directs the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to investigate the feasibility of establishing a national cloud computing system for AI research and to propose a roadmap detailing how such a resource should be established and sustained. The roadmap must include details on which agencies will be responsible for implementing and deploying this resource and a plan for how it will be funded.

2. Providing Funding for AI Research and Development

The Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act establishes a national program to advance AI research in the United States. In particular, the bill directs OSTP to create a committee that will advise it on matters related to the initiative, and a coordination office to serve as the point of contact on federal AI activities. The bill also directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to carry out initiative activities, including awarding contracts and establishing collaborative ventures or consortia. NSF is responsible for awarding grants to establish up to five multidisciplinary centers for AI research and education.

3. Investing in Semiconductor Manufacturing

The CHIPS for America Act provides incentives to support the research, development, and manufacturing of semiconductors in the United States, including a 40 percent investment tax credit for semiconductor manufacturing and facility investments through 2024. Successful semiconductor innovation is important for maintaining U.S. leadership in AI. This bill directs the Department of Commerce to create a $10 billion federal grant program to match state and local incentives for companies building advanced manufacturing semiconductor fabrication facilities in the United States; establishes a new $50 million semiconductor program at NIST to support advanced manufacturing, STEM workforce development, and ecosystem clustering in America; and directs the president to establish a NIST Council Subcommittee on Semiconductor Leadership to develop a strategy for ensuring U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology and innovation.

4. Bringing AI Experts into the Department of Defense

The Artificial Intelligence for the Armed Forces Act requires the Director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), the DOD’s AI Center of Excellence, to report directly to the Secretary of Defense and ensures the appointee is an officer of three-star rank. The Secretary of Defense is also required to develop a training and certification program to better enable DOD’s human resources workforce to bring AI and cyber professionals into the Department, and must issue guidance on how the Department can better use existing direct hire authority to onboard AI professionals.

5. Strengthening the Military’s AI Strategy

The Artificial Intelligence Standards and National Security Act requires DOD to report to Congress on its role in the development of AI standards, including an assessment of the ways in which an AI standards strategy will improve national security. The bill also requires DOD to report on the feasibility and current status of assigning members of the armed forces on active duty to JAIC.

6. Assessing the Role of China in International Standards Setting Organizations

The Ensuring American Leadership over International Standards Act directs NIST to commission a study that examines Chinese government policies and standards development for emerging technologies including AI and their impact on international standards setting organizations. NIST must also provide recommendations on how the United States can mitigate China’s influence and bolster its own participation in international standard setting bodies for AI.

7. Improving U.S. Capacity for Environmental Observation

A bill introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish the “Center for Artificial Intelligence” to coordinate and facilitate scientific and technological efforts relating to AI across the agency. NOAA must also expand external partnerships and build workforce proficiency to effectively transition AI research and applications into operations.

8. Assessing the Risk Deepfakes Pose to National Security 

The Deepfake Report Act directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct an annual study of deepfakes—realistic-looking images and videos produced with AI that portray someone doing or saying something that never actually happened. In particular, DHS must assess the technology used to generate deepfakes, the uses of deepfakes by foreign and domestic entities, and available countermeasures to deepfakes, in order to help policymakers and the public better understand the threats deepfakes pose to national security and election security.

9. Supporting Research To Better Examine Manipulated Media

The Identifying Outputs of Generative Adversarial Networks (IOGAN) Act directs NSF and NIST to support research that accelerates the development of measurements and standards that examine generative adversarial networks—software systems that generate artificial outputs (e.g. deepfakes) using authentic inputs (e.g. photographs).

10. Creating a National AI Strategy to Maintain U.S. Leadership in AI

The House passed a bipartisan resolution introduced by Reps. Will Hurd (R-TX) and Robin Kelly (D-IL) in September calling for the United States to create a national strategy for AI. Their resolution endorses five guiding principles for a national AI strategy: maintaining global leadership in AI, preparing the workforce, strengthening national security, fostering mechanisms to address bias, fairness, and privacy issues, and advancing AI research and development.

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