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WSJ News Exclusive | U.S. Launches Task Force to Study Opening Government Data for AI Research

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WASHINGTON—The Biden administration launched an initiative Thursday aiming to make more government data available to artificial intelligence researchers, part of a broader push to keep the U.S. on the cutting edge of the crucial new technology.

The National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource Task Force, a group of 12 members from academia, government, and industry led by officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation, will draft a strategy for creating an AI research resource that could, in part, give researchers secure access to stores of anonymous data about Americans, from demographics to health and driving habits.

They would also look to make available computing power to analyze the data, with the goal of allowing access to researchers across the country.

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“This is a moment that is calling us to be strengthening our speed and scale” when it comes to advances in AI technology, said National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan in an interview. “It is also calling us to make sure that innovation is everywhere.”

The task force, which Congress mandated in the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act of 2020, is part of an effort across the government to ensure the U.S. remains at the vanguard of technological advancements.

Lynne Parker, assistant director of AI at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.



Photo:

Keegan Barber/White House/Associated Press

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The Senate this week approved a bipartisan bill to invest $250 billion in technology research and development, and the House is considering similar legislation. During the Trump administration, the government launched new AI research institutes and discussed making more government data available to researchers.  

Developing artificial intelligence depends on accessing vast stores of data to fuel machine learning. There is a growing consensus in Washington and business that China, Russia, and other countries threaten to surpass the U.S. in the field of artificial intelligence in part because of their efforts to tap data.

Lynne Parker, assistant director of artificial intelligence at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the task force announced Thursday would aim to give Congress a road map for creating a common research infrastructure the government could offer to outsiders. Ms. Parker co-chairs the new task force.

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“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 said. Many researchers, particularly in academia, “simply don’t have access to these computational resources and data, and this is hampering innovation.”

One example: The Transportation Department has access to a set of data gathered from vehicle sensors about how people drive, said Erwin Gianchandani, senior adviser at the National Science Foundation and co-chairman of the new AI task force.

“Because you have very sensitive data about individuals, there are challenges in being able to make that data available to the broader research community,” he said. On the other hand, if researchers could get access, they could develop innovations designed to make driving safer.

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Anonymous census, medical and other data could also potentially be made available for research by both private companies and academic institutions, officials said. They said the task force will evaluate how to make such data available while protecting Americans’ privacy and addressing other ethical concerns. The data available could also come from nongovernment sources, they said.

One member of the task force is Andrew Moore, director of cloud AI for

Alphabet Inc.’s

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Google.

“We felt it was important to have the perspective of cloud providers,” Ms. Parker said when asked about his appointment. She noted the task force also included a representative from a smaller company, DefinedCrowd.

The task force is due to issue reports in May and November of next year.

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Write to Ryan Tracy at [email protected]

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