A bipartisan bill introduced on May 21, 2019 in the U.S. Senate seeks to prepare America’s employers and workers for the 21st century economy by establishing a national Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy and investing $2.2 billion in new AI research centers. The Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act (AI-IA) (S. 1558) resembles the national AI initiatives that nearly every other global economic power—including China, Japan, and most recently Germany—have launched during the past four years.

The AI-IA is sponsored by a bipartisan trio of senators: Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI). The mission of the AI-IA-proposed initiative includes a heavy focus on ensuring the competitiveness of American employers and workers as the global economy is transformed by AI. The AI-IA seeks to:

support the development of a workforce pipeline for science and technology with respect to artificial intelligence by making strategic investments to—

(A) expand the number of researchers, educators, and students with training in science and technology related to artificial intelligence;

(B) increase the number of skilled and trained workers from underrepresented communities who can contribute to the development of artificial intelligence and artificial intelligence technology, diversify the artificial intelligence workforce, and expand the artificial intelligence workforce pipeline;

(C) promote the development and inclusion of multidisciplinary curricula and research opportunities for science and engineering with respect to artificial intelligence, including advanced technological education, during the primary, secondary, undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, adult learning, and career retraining stages of education; and

(D) equip workers with the knowledge and skill sets required to operate effectively in occupations and workplaces that will be increasingly influenced by artificial intelligence.

To achieve these goals, the AI-IA proposes establishing three new bodies with interlocking missions to help advance the Initiative’s objectives: an Interagency Committee on Artificial Intelligence; a National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee; and a National Artificial Intelligence Coordination Office.

The Interagency Committee would be composed of the heads of over a dozen federal agencies and departments involved in the development or public application of AI. The Interagency Committee’s mission would be to coordinate federal agency activity relating to research and education on AI and to “establish objectives and priorities for the Initiative . . . based on identified knowledge and workforce gaps and other national needs.”

The Advisory Committee, which would be established by the Director of the National Science Foundation, would consist of individuals who “shall collectively have expertise on a wide range of defense and non-defense artificial intelligence matters.” The Advisory Committee’s purpose would be to advise the Interagency Committee, both in terms of providing information on the state of the art and in advancing the Initiative’s mission. The Coordination Office, in turn, would provide technical and administrative support to the Advisory Committee, and coordinate the Initiative’s efforts with AI development work occurring at the state level, in academia, and in the private sector.

In addition to these new government bodies, the AI-IA proposes a substantial investment in up to 10 new federal research and development centers, five to be established by the Department of Energy and five more under the auspices of the new National AI Coordination Office. The 10 research centers would receive funding for five years, starting in 2020 and running through 2024. The five Department of Energy research centers would receive $300 million, or $60 million per research center per year ($1.5 billion total); and the research centers established by the Coordination Office would receive $100 million, or $20 million per research center per year ($500 million total). Despite its funding source, the goals of the Department of Energy research centers are quite broad and not limited to energy-sector research or applications.

Within 60 days after its enactment, the AI-IA would require the Coordination Office to contract with an existing federally funded research center to conduct a “Study on the Artificial Intelligence Workforce.” The study would examine “the mechanisms that produce or contribute to the workforce in artificial intelligence (including researchers and specialists in artificial intelligence and users of artificial intelligence) in order to identify and develop actions to ensure an appropriate increase in the size, quality, and diversity of the workforce.” The research center would collaborate with various federal agencies with access to relevant data, such as the Department of Commerce, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Census Bureau, as well as comparable state agencies, universities, industry, and other stakeholders.

At several points, the bill references broader ethical and legal considerations surrounding the development of AI, including issues relating to algorithmic bias and algorithmic accountability, as well as the well-recognized diversity and inclusion challenges that the AI industry faces today. The above-referenced study, for instance, would be tasked with facilitating “the sharing of best practices and approaches for increasing and retaining underrepresented populations in the artificial intelligence field,” and at least one of the five multidisciplinary research and development centers would be at a federally recognized minority-serving institution, such as a historically black college or university or a tribal university.

The AI-IA represents by far the boldest and most promising step toward a comprehensive national AI strategy that the United States has seen to date. Nevertheless, employers should not be complacent. It is difficult to predict whether the bill, despite its bipartisan provenance, will receive serious consideration in the current session. Even if it were enacted, the federal government would be starting several years behind its international counterparts, and the bill does not allocate any funds for the greatly expanded vocational education and training programs that employers will need to access in order to remain competitive. Employers should therefore consider engaging with their trade associations and joining the Emma Coalition, whose mission is to help employers prepare themselves and their workforces for the imminent labor-market disruptions that AI will bring.