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Biden, AI, and the future digital economy

Biden and future digital economy

How Biden’s commitment to AI attests to the future of big data 

The Biden administration has dedicated significant resources and attention to big data and artificial intelligence (AI). In June 2021, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the formation of the National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Resource Task Force. It isn’t the major infusion of funds that the industry desperately needs, but it is an indication of the importance that the current administration is placing on the development of the country’s AI capacity. 

The new task force joins the US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), an independent organization that was established in 2018 to accelerate AI development and encourage partnerships between the US government, the private sector, and other democracies to advance AI-related initiatives. Biden’s administration has also requested billions of dollars for technology research—including AI—in his infrastructure plan and 2022 budget, which are still pending approval in Congress. 

The investment is logical—AI has the potential to revolutionize practically every aspect of our lives today. When properly channeled, it can be used for immense good, with commercial and non-commercial applications in fields ranging from medicine, manufacturing, agriculture, to education and even personal safety. In the wrong hands, it can be used to support authoritarian regimes and manipulate public opinion. Therefore, the new task force will focus on creating the road map to expand access to resources and infrastructure that will encourage positive AI innovation and lead to economic growth, as well as strengthen America’s geopolitical position and national welfare. 

Big data and AI

There is no shortage of data today—countless data points are collected every second through trillions of online interactions and millions of devices and sensors in private households, businesses, industry, and government bodies. The data can be stored on the cloud, enabling expanded access. 

The challenge is how to use that data to serve the greater good and spur economic growth.  Big data is only a building block—it needs to be paired with sophisticated data management and advanced analytics to create valuable insights and support machine learning. Together, big data and AI open endless opportunities and applications, which is why policymakers and investors alike are focused on creating the conditions to allow the field to grow and flourish. 

Overcoming roadblocks to AI development

The Biden administration’s AI policy focuses on eliminating the roadblocks that currently prevent AI from reaching its full potential in the US. In addition to ongoing research and development and creating appropriate policy, the various initiatives focus on enabling US-based chip production and bridging the talent gap. 

US-based chip production

AI isn’t powered only by software—hardware like powerful computer chips is needed for AI systems and applications that run on devices. However, most computer chips are produced in Asia, primarily in Taiwan and China. During the pandemic lockdowns in 2020, there was a severe shortage of semiconductors that impacted industries from household appliances to the automotive industry, to consumer electronics like smartphones. Businesses were unable to supply products on time, and new product launches were delayed. 

Biden’s AI strategy aims to build chip manufacturing capacity in the US, minimizing the American dependence on other countries. In his infrastructure bill, President Biden requested $150 million for manufacturing units to produce chips for devices with AI capabilities. That isn’t anywhere near the $35 billion needed for the American microchip industry according to a report from the NSCAI, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

Bridging the talent gap 

There is an enormous skills gap in AI in the US, and as many as two in five companies are struggling to fill critical positions such as AI developers and engineers, AI researchers, and data scientists. The US is not alone—most developed countries report a similar gap in skills. 

Some large companies in the private sector are offering training in AI-related disciplines, but it’s a drop in the bucket—individual companies simply don’t have the capacity to help reskill the workforce. In a recent report, the NSCAI recommended that the US government invest in training the workforce in AI, including a U.S. Digital Service Academy and a civilian National Digital Reserve Corps to recruit both young and experienced talent. Although those initiatives currently exist only on paper, the infrastructure legislation and discretionary funds are already being used to support various types of training and continuing education in AI. 

Investing in AI

The Biden administration’s focus on AI indicates that it is likely to play a significant role in the economy of the future. While the government spending is still far from sufficient, it may spur more companies to invest in AI and big data. Therefore, the field is drawing significant interest among investors large and small.  

Interested investors can choose to buy stock in one of the many companies that have made AI their main focus. Alternatively, they can mitigate the risk of investing in a specific company and invest via a Big Data ETF (Exchange-Traded Fund). The net asset value of the ETF is linked to the value of its composite stocks, which in this case, are publicly listed companies active in the big data and AI arena. ETFs are positioned to capture potential growth in an industry like AI that is showing promise, while reducing the risk inherent in purchasing any individual stock. 

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