The U.S. Government Announces Intentions to Heavily Invest in AI and Quantum Technology

February 12, 2020 by Luke James

But will it be enough to catch up and compete with China?

On Tuesday, February 11, 2020 the U.S. Office of Science and Technology released information pertaining to U.S. President Donald Trump’s budget for FY 2021. 

From the news, it looks as if the White House is finally starting to take AI and quantum technology seriously at a time of fierce competition, by dedicating billions of dollars to fund AI and quantum computing research outside of Department of Defense spending.


LG president I.P. Park presenting at CES 2019.

LG Electronics president I.P. Park presenting at CES 2019. The main message of his speech was the growing potential of AI in benefiting consumers and their lives. Image used courtesy of LG Electronics.


Where’s the Money Going?

The newly released budget contains billions of dollars dedicated to AI research and development (R&D) apportioned out over several agencies and departments, including a record-breaking $1 billion for civilian AI research. This, according to the White House, puts the U.S. on a path to “...double nondefense AI R&D by 2022.”

The department that will cash in the most is The National Science Foundation, which has seen its budget increase by 70% to $830 million in comparison to the 2020 financial year. With others receiving hundreds of millions in new funding including the Department of Agriculture, Defense, and Energy. 

The FY 2021 Budget also bolsters federal quantum information science (QIS) R&D funding through investments across key agencies. This will see QIS R&D funding increase by more than 50% relative to the FY 2020 Budget. This also puts “…R&D on the path to double by 2022,” according to the White House. “The President’s Budget prioritizes the Industries of the Future, and commits to double R&D spending in nondefense artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum information science (QIS) by 2022.” A representative added. 

Again, the National Science Foundation will benefit heavily, with QIS research funding due to almost double to $230 million. The Department of Energy Office of Science spending on QIS research will also increase to $237 million, which will boost QIS efforts at the national laboratories, in academia and industry. This represents a nearly $70 million increase over FY 2020.

Beyond R&D, the FY 2021 Budget includes investments in education and job training to “…help create a diverse and highly skilled American workforce to support the Industries of the Future.”


IBM's quantum computer.

An IBM quantum computer, the Q System One. Which demonstrates the progress possible of quantum technology for future development efforts and investment. Image used courtesy of IBM Zurich Lab. (CC BY-ND 2.0)


Shifting U.S. Priorities

These dramatic increases in U.S. Government funding should come as little surprise after both the AI Initiative and Quantum Initiative Acts – designed to inform Congress that U.S. budget priorities needed to change and account for “future tech” – were signed into law by President Trump in 2018 and 2019 respectively. 

As we know, the U.S. is presently engaged in what some have described as a “race” and a “war” with China in the field of AI, and this increase in funding – the largest amount ever spent on AI and quantum computing technology by the U.S. Government – is a step in the right direction. Whether or not it is sustainable, or indeed enough, to ensure the U.S. takes the ‘top spot’ through the creation of opportunities in non-military applications remains to be seen. And, given that there is no real ‘finish line’, so to speak, we may never know for sure.

What we do know is that simply pouring more money into AI and QIS alone will not be enough; it should not be seen as a magic bullet. A lot of work needs to be done and the U.S. may have a lot of catching up to do.