The United States must lead the way on artificial intelligence standards
Nearly three years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced before the Chinese Communist Party’s policy-making elite that artificial intelligence “is a vital driving force for a new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation, and accelerating AI development is a strategic issue to decide whether we can grasp opportunities.” This statement set in motion a plan that was announced just a year earlier, wherein the CCP laid out its vision to become the world leader in AI by 2030. As with most sectors in which the CCP is interested, the goal is to dominate this all-important field and supplant the U.S. en route to creating a domestic industry worth billions of dollars.
The CCP’s interest in AI is understandable. This burgeoning technological field has the potential to revolutionize society as a whole, and Beijing wants to ensure it does not lag behind its American and European rivals as it did in the earliest days of the computer revolution. Furthermore, potential applications for AI technology include everything from agricultural development to weapons. For China specifically, AI has the potential to bolster its massive domestic surveillance system and internet censorship efforts. Put simply, AI could be the CCP’s key to finally surpassing the U.S. and maintaining its iron grip on its own people.
As is the case with any budding industry, those who get in first will set the standard for everyone else. Thanks to our economic prowess and technological innovation, it has been American companies like Apple and Microsoft that have blazed the trail in technological standards for the rest of the world since the earliest days of the personal computer. Our track record of establishing global standards has been beneficial to both domestic and international economic development. American innovators have generally seen technological advancement as a rising tide that lifts all boats, while the CCP has made clear in its past behavior that only those who bend the knee to Beijing will share in its bounty.
In order to continue our impressive track record in setting global technological standards, it is important we ensure American small and medium-sized businesses have a seat at the table. Many of most remarkable AI technological breakthroughs are being developed by smaller innovators who simply do not have the financial resources of a CCP-backed megacorporation. Accordingly, we are proud to have introduced the Leadership in Global Tech Standards Act of 2021, legislation that would provide small businesses throughout the country with the financial backing they need to participate in setting global AI standards. This bipartisan legislation, which is also being co-sponsored by Reps. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), will help increase U.S. global competitiveness and prevent the CCP from dominating the AI space.
Our bill is a direct response to the National Security Commission on AI’s final report to Congress released earlier this year. Included in the report was a recommendation to establish a grant program for small and medium-sized American AI companies that will help them conduct relevant research, develop requisite skills and expertise, prepare standards proposals, and attend technical standards setting meetings. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) were the first to offer a bill creating such a grant program. Our bill builds on that legislation by including certain safeguards and requirements that will help ensure the money is well-spent.
While we are proud to champion this bill, we recognize our country is quickly running out of time to counter China’s influence in setting AI standards. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), China is outpacing the U.S. in setting standards for certain areas of telecommunication. China has also repeatedly stated the importance of setting AI standards now in order to expand its domestic market in this space:
“Artificial intelligence industry competitiveness develops into the international first phalanx. We shall make the initial establishment of artificial intelligence technology standards, service system and industrial ecological chain, cultivate a number of the world’s leading artificial intelligence backbone enterprises, make the scale of artificial intelligence core industry more than 150 billion yuan, and drive the scale of related industries more than 1 trillion yuan,” the Chinese State Council wrote in its 2017 AI development plan.
AI is a powerful tool with the potential to progress humankind’s technological journey or suppress billions under the thumb of the CCP. Whoever sets this technology’s standards will determine the course it takes in the future. America must be at the forefront, just as it always has been.
Scott Franklin represents Florida’s 15th District and Jay Obernolte represents California’s 8th District and is ranking member of the Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.