If artificial intelligence researchers and companies were disappointed with President Donald Trump’s A.I. policies, they might be more hopeful about the future of A.I. now that Joe Biden was elected U.S. president.

One of the major sore points with current federal A.I. policy was the amount of funding that the Trump Administration’s allocated for non-military A.I.-related research. In February, the White House said it would bump non-defense related A.I. investment to $2 billion annually by 2022, which was seen by some analysts as paltry considering the staggering amount of money that’s needed to produce cutting-edge A.I. research.  

Although the Biden Administration has not detailed its exact plans for A.I. research, the Democrat’s campaign indicated that it takes general scientific research and development crucial for the nation. Biden has proposed to increase the amount of federal R&D spending to $300 billion over four years. Meanwhile, the White House planned to spend $142.2 billion on federal R&D as part of President Trump’s 2021 budget.

The Biden campaign said that “declines in federal R&D spending have contributed to a hollowing out of the American middle class,” and that its proposed investment would benefit “key technologies” like “5G, artificial intelligence, advanced materials, biotechnology, and clean vehicles.”

Echoing sentiments by former Google chief Eric Schmidt, the Biden campaign pointed to China as a major reason the U.S. needs to ramp up technology and science spending, saying that “China is on track to surpass the U.S. in R&D.” 

“China’s government is actively investing in research and commercialization across these types of important technology areas, in an effort to overtake American technological primacy and dominate future industries,” the Biden campaign said. 

Companies and researchers will have to wait to see how exactly the Biden Administration divvies its proposed funding to A.I.-specific initiatives. With so much attention on hot-topic issues like COVID-19, systemic racism, and the economy, both Trump and Biden paid little attention to A.I. as an important area for the nation to focus on during their heated political battles.

Still, previous statements and initiatives gives us a window into how the new Administration views A.I. and related technologies like facial recognition.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has previously called attention to potential problems using A.I. in the criminal justice system. Numerous researchers and activists are concerned about facial-recognition software’s tendency to work better on white males than women and people of color, and its potential misuse by police departments with a history of racism. 

Last December, Harris and other lawmakers like Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Edward Markey (D-MA) also called on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to review policies governing the use of facial recognition software in federally assisted housing.

Harris and the other lawmakers were concerned “that the expansion of facial recognition technology in federally assisted housing properties poses risks to marginalized communities, including by opening the door to unchecked government surveillance that could threaten civil rights.”

Of course, Harris has been criticized by activists for her tough-on-crime approach during her stint as a prosecutor that they claim resulted in over-incarceration of Black people.  

But judging by her rhetoric and actions so far, it’s possible the new Biden Administration may propose tougher bans on federal use of facial recognition. As for what the Biden Administration plans for corporate use of facial recognition, that remains to be seen.  

Jonathan Vanian 
[email protected]

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