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66 Ways to Beat China in AI: Report

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence suggests a CTO for the intelligence community; a White House AI council, like the National Space Council; and more.

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence submitted its interim report and third-quarter recommendations to the president and Congress Tuesday. 

The commission, composed largely of private-sector tech experts from companies such as Google and Oracle, submitted 66 recommendations across six lines of effort, including workforce, education and research and development. Commissioners voted on recommendations last week during a virtual public plenary meeting

The far-reaching recommendations pointed to a theme that has increasingly gripped the minds of policymakers: the return of great power competition. Commission co-chairs Robert Work, former deputy secretary of Defense, and Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, told reporters during a press call Tuesday that artificial intelligence is an essential component of competition with nations like China. 

“It’s become very clear that we are in an innovation competition unlike anything we’ve ever faced before,” Work said. 

One of the most significant recommendations targeted at this competition calls for the creation of a technology council chaired by the vice president and tasked with the development of a national technology strategy. 

This council could live within existing White House entities such as the National Security Council or the Office of Science and Technology Policy, according to the report. The report also recommends the council include an assistant to the president to run day-to-day activities. NSCAI specifically states this assistant should be someone who not only understands the workings of government, but who also has “strong ties to the private sector technology community.”  

Both the Trump and Obama administrations have received criticism regarding revolving-door relationships with Silicon Valley, though. Lately, President Trump’s relationship with Oracle’s Larry Ellison has raised eyebrows, particularly after Trump approved a deal that anointed Oracle as TikTok’s “trusted tech partner” in the U.S. Similarly, the Obama administration was criticized for its close ties to Google

Schmidt said the commission had in a mind a model for the technology council similar to the National Space Council, which is currently headed by Vice President Mike Pence. 

“What I’ve learned as an amateur in government bureaucracy is that it really matters how high you are in the organization and so we think, collectively, that this set of issues around competitiveness are so defining that it needs to be at the vice president or presidential level, and not as part of some bureaucratic process,” Schmidt said. 

NSCAI in quarter three is recommending other administrative changes to orient the bureaucracy toward emerging technologies as well. The report calls for the creation of a chief technology officer for the intelligence community along with greater empowerment of the Defense Department’s CTO. 

One recommendation meant to help elevate the DOD CTO, also known as the undersecretary of Defense for research and engineering, calls for a dedicated fund for the CTO to use to integrate promising artificial intelligence technologies. The goal of the fund would be to support emerging AI technologies beyond initial research and development so that these technologies can become operational faster even when planned program funds aren’t yet available. 

The new intelligence community CTO position should be an evolution of the director of science and technology role within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to the report. NSCAI also wants the new CTO to have a dedicated fund for AI investments. 

“With this type of high-level oversight, we think we can really start to organize ourselves for the competition,” Work said. 

A significant portion of the recommendations are dedicated to workforce and talent initiatives. Work said the commission feels the only way to win the AI competition is by developing the best talent. Some of NSCAI’s workforce and talent measures, especially from previous NSCAI reports, have made their way into versions of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Schmidt said the commission has made a targeted effort in 2020 to work with Congress on implementing its recommendations in the NDAA. 

Now that the quarter three report and recommendations are out, NSCAI will turn its attention to the development of its final report, which is due in March. Schmidt said the commission has released its work to “both political camps” so that it will be ready to collaborate with either a second-term Trump administration or a new Biden administration depending on the result of the election.