UPDATED 19:50 EDT / JUNE 10 2021


Task force to find ways to make US government data available for AI research

A U.S. government task force launched today is working on a strategy to provide artificial intelligence researchers with access to massive amounts of data on American citizens.

The National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource Task Force is part of a broader effort to ensure the U.S. remains a leader in the emerging AI field.

The task force, made up of 12 members from academia, government and industry, will be led by officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation. It has been tasked with finding safe ways to make massive amounts of government data, on everything from demographics to health to people’s driving habits, available to the AI research community, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The task force will also come up with a strategy to provide researchers with the computing power they need to analyze that data.

In order to advance AI, researchers need access to vast amounts of data that can be used to train new models. One of the biggest sources of data in the U.S. is the government. Researchers want access to its data quickly, because there is growing alarm that rivals such as China and Russia could surpass the U.S. in AI due to having unrestricted access to their own data sources.

The plan is for the task force to draw up a road map for creating a common research infrastructure that would then be made available to U.S. AI researchers, said Lynne Parker, assistant director of AI research at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“In order to investigate a lot of their really great ideas in AI, they need access to powerful computing infrastructure and they need access to data,” she told the Journal. She added that many researchers, especially those in academia, do not have access to these computational resources and data, and said that is “hampering innovation.”

One of the concerns of providing researchers with access to government data is that much of it is considered to be very sensitive, so there are “challenges is being able to make that data available to the broader research community, said Erwin Gianchandani, senior adviser at the National Science Foundation and co-chairman of the new task force.

For example, Gianchandani said, the U.S. Transportation Department has access to a massive dataset on how people drive, gathered from vehicle sensors. That data could be valuable in the design of self-driving cars, but at the same time, the government cannot let it fall into the wrong hands.

Other things that could be invaluable to AI researchers includes Census data and U.S. citizens’ medical records, the Journal said. So the task force will need to evaluate how to make these records available to both academic institutions and private companies while protecting American’s privacy and addressing any other ethical concerns.

Ensuring the privacy of data shouldn’t be that difficult to accomplish, given the existence of numerous tools that are already available to anonymize datasets and secure information, said analyst Charles King of Pund-IT Inc. That’s just as well, he said, because China has demonstrated that it has the potential to supersede the U.S. in AI and other computational research areas, so the task force will need to proceed quickly.

“China’s leaders haven’t exactly been shrinking violets about their plans and ambitions,” King said. “Given the rapid, even torrid pace of technological development in China during the past half-decade, it’s remarkable that the prior U.S. administration didn’t prioritize or fund efforts like this one.”

Analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. agreed that it’s good to see the West is trying to keep ahead of powers such as China and Russia in its AI initiatives and stressed that it’s of vital importance that it does so.

“It is clear by now that future conflicts will be waged using digital technologies,” he said. “Hacking activities, computer viruses and AI will be the weapons of choice and we can only hope that there will be a similar balance of power with this like there was in the nuclear era, so as to avoid any major conflicts.”

The task force includes Andrew Moore, who serves as director of cloud AI at Alphabet Inc. company Google LLC. Parker told the Journal that the White House felt it necessary to have some representation from the cloud industry.

The task force has been ordered to issue a report by May next year and outline its strategy by the following November.

Image: NewUnion_org/Pixabay

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