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What this bald eagle and neural network depiction have to do with future U.S. AI strategy

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) today announced the launch of the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office, an organization that will coordinate and oversee national AI policy initiatives for the United States government.

“The Office is charged with overseeing and implementing the United States national AI strategy and will serve as the central hub for federal coordination and collaboration in AI research and policymaking across the government, as well as with private sector, academia, and other stakeholders,” according to a White House statement.

The news comes with roughly one week left in President Trump’s tenure and less than a week after he incited a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in which five people were killed. If the president doesn’t resign and the vice president and cabinet do not invoke the 25th Amendment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Congress will vote on articles of impeachment tomorrow.

Almost as interesting as the tasks the National AI Initiative Office will take on is the group’s seal, which appears to be the U.S. government’s first depiction of artificial intelligence in the logo of a federal office or agency.

Instead of grasping an olive branch in one talon and arrows in the other to symbolize war and peace, as the eagle on the seal of the President of the United States does, the National AI Initiative Office shows a bald eagle grasping interconnected nodes meant to symbolize a neural network.

“The eagle emerges from the neural network to represent the power and potential of AI to translate data into knowledge, technological breakthroughs, and new capabilities,” a White House statement reads.

Seven stars at the bottom of the seal are meant to signify that the office was established in the seventh decade of artificial intelligence. One node of that neural network includes a depiction of the American flag to show a “commitment to leadership in AI from the United States,” as well as the “importance of an all-of-nation approach to the research, development, and deployment of AI.”

The National AI Initiative Office came into existence with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense spending bill for the U.S. military. Though the White House championed the launch of the new AI office today, President Trump vetoed the bill that created the office last month because lawmakers did not do as he asked and strip Big Tech companies of Section 230 legal liability protection. Both houses of Congress voted to override the president’s veto last week.

The NDAA included funding for a number of AI-related initiatives pertaining to national security, including a Select Committee on AI; an initiative to provide data, cloud, and high-performance computing resources to AI researchers; and an annual review of AI budgetary items led by the National AI Initiative Office.

Trump’s record as a bigot and proponent of human rights violations like putting kids in cages likely prevented him from being taken seriously when it comes to ensuring trustworthy AI that works for everyone and does not violate people’s rights.

During the Trump administration, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy typically led the Trump administration’s efforts to participate in multinational initiatives with other democratic nations. For example, White House CTO Michael Kratsios signed the OECD AI ethics principles in Paris in 2019. Last year, White House Deputy CTO Dr. Lynne Parker, who also played an important role in the agency during the Obama administration, recently negotiated U.S. membership in the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI) to coordinate policy among democratic countries and counter China’s growing influence in AI. Parker will serve as founding director of the National AI Initiative Office.

The national AI research and development strategy was also revised during the Trump presidency. It remained largely consistent with the first such strategy introduced in the final year of the Obama administration but called for increased collaboration with businesses and international partners. In response to Trump’s executive order addressing AI, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last year devised a plan for how the federal government should engage in efforts to create AI standards.

President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration has pledged to increase research and development funding for AI and other technologies.


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