US mulls curbs on artificial intelligence exports

The Trump administration is considering a proposal to curb the export of some sensitive technologies such as artificial intelligence amid concerns the US is losing leadership to China

The administration of US President Donald Trump is exploring curbing exports of sensitive technologies including artificial intelligence for national security reasons, according to a proposal this week. The proposal to control sales of certain technologies "essential to the national security of the United States" comes amid growing trade friction with Beijing -- and fears that China may overtake the US in some areas such as artificial intelligence. The Commerce Department said in the proposed rules, published Monday, that it would consider curbs on various AI technologies such as neural networks and deep learning, computer vision, natural language processing and audio and video manipulation. Artificial intelligence is a key element of many computer products made by US tech firms including smartphones, connected speakers and self-driving cars. AI can also have applications for military purposes. The proposed rules also said export curbs would be examined for microprocessor technology, quantum computing, robotics and other sectors. The US is examining controls for "specific emerging technologies" that would avoid "negatively impacting US leadership in the science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing sector," said the federal register notice. But banning AI exports could be counterproductive to US goals, said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank. "If the US government bans the export of AI technology, other countries will likely enact reciprocal policies," Castro said. "It will mean US companies are locked out of certain markets, allowing firms in other countries to compete unchallenged." Castro said a ban also would "prevent the type of international research collaboration needed in an emerging technology such as AI," including with China. Meanwhile, a report this month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies said there are difficult tradeoffs when considering AI and national security in light of cross-border investments. "If an adversary succeeds in acquiring technology from a US firm or start-up through investment, that is a detriment to national security," the CSIS report said. "On the other hand, if the United States refuses to work with companies that have Chinese investment or funding because of the national security risk that this investment might pose, these companies could lose access to significant investment potential and the US government also loses a potential partner for new ideas and capabilities."