Commercial, Military

Developers of Urban Airspace Management AI Say White House Plans Short on Details and Funding

By Frank Wolfe | February 22, 2019
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A SkyGrid graphic
(Courtesy: SkyGrid)

Top executives of an artificial intelligence (AI) firm helping to build an urban airspace management system are criticizing this month's White House executive order on AI and a Pentagon AI strategy as short on details and funding.

Amir Husain, the CEO of the Austin, Texas-based SparkCognition, said that the executive order did not contain an AI national strategy and said that, while the United States "has the opportunity to be the world leader in AI...there’s not a mention of a single cent in new funding" in the executive order, according to published reports.

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Wendy Anderson, SparkCognition's general manager of defense and national security and a top DoD official during the Obama administration, said that the executive order lacks an implementation plan and that China's AI plan, by contrast, contains details, deadlines and a funding plan.

Last November, Boeing and SparkCognition announced an urban airspace management joint venture, labelled SkyGrid, to use blockchain technology, AI-enabled dynamic traffic routing and data analytics to enable air taxi operations. SparkCognition said that SkyGrid will also enable aviation-based package deliveries, industrial inspections, and emergency services.

China and other nations are undertaking national AI efforts, and Air Force Lt. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson, the service's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, said last summer that China spent $12 billion on AI in 2017 and was on a path to spend $70 billion annually by the end of 2020. While the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) last September announced a multi-year, $2 billion "AI Next" campaign, it appears that the U.S. federal investment in AI falls significantly behind that of China.

The Trump executive order encourages federal agencies to increase industry partnerships and individual investments in new technology but it does not detail any funding increases for AI-specific research programs.

To match adversaries like China and Russia, the EO calls for increased investments in AI research and development, more resources to make federal data and computing resources available to industry and a directive for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop AI governance standards.

The DoD AI strategy has a goal of advancing AI technology development to stay ahead of peer competitors and using the new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) to field such technologies quickly.

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