American AI Initiative will likely have a salient impact on campus

On Feb. 11, President Trump signed an order titled “Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence,” one of the first major bureaucratic steps in managing and overseeing continued advances in artificial intelligence research and development. The order aims to further prioritize research, development, and integration of artificial intelligence.

As Carnegie Mellon has established itself as a world center of AI research, now even offering a dedicated undergraduate major in the field, the order will undoubtedly have an impact on the future of university research.

The executive order notes the creation of new educational grants, with eligibility from high school up to early career researchers, as well as grants to “encourage the integration of AI technologies into courses in order to facilitate personalized and adaptive learning experiences for formal and informal education and training.”

Further, it maintains that certain guidelines are to be established to ensure the safety of developed technology, and directs federal agencies to make more of their currently private data and models open to researchers.

In a university statement responding to the initiative, Carnegie Mellon announced that it “enthusiastically supports” the efforts of the executive action, saying that “responsibly leveraging data as a national resource and investing in an AI-ready workforce will bring new energy to our national innovation ecosystem.”

The press release continued, “we look forward to continuing to work with public and private sector partners to drive innovation in the field, educate tomorrow’s AI talent, and promote public policies that will lead to broad societal benefit and economic opportunity,” thus implicitly placing the university at the center of the future of American AI research and development mentioned in the initiative.

Carnegie Mellon has maintained a research relationship with various federal entities for upwards of 70 years, most recently seen in the Army AI Task Force established at Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center last month.

As Carnegie Mellon recently moved to “accelerate collaborations” with defense contractor Lockheed Martin this past week in a new research partnership, citing the company’s “significant investments in AI” as motivation, AI research at Carnegie Mellon continues to have broad federal importance. Due to this, it is possible that the university will be both the beneficiaries of an injection of research and development funding, and perhaps subject to the regulatory guidelines to be established by the National Science and Technology Council Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence.

In terms of funding, David Danks, Philosophy Department Head & L.L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, told The Tartan that “the Executive Order is likely to be generally helpful in securing funding and data access for AI development in the US, [but] it is also very high-level, and so it is difficult to predict the exact impacts.”

He continued, “much will depend on the decisions of particular agency heads, as well as subsequent guidance and enforcement. The details will matter, and they are simply not spelled out in the Executive Order.”

Regarding the potential of job displacement, Tae Wan Kim, Carnegie Mellon professor of AI and business ethics told Fortune that “there’s not much information about how to address the trade-off between AI-powered [technology] and unemployment” in the executive order. The concerns of a lack of regulatory guidance don’t end as job loss, however.

In terms of the ethical considerations specified in the executive order, Danks stated that “the executive order does involve some attention to ethics, but almost never as an integral part of the research, design, development, and deployment processes.”

While the order does mention maintaining “safety, security, privacy, and confidentiality protections,” as well as “protecting American technology, economic and national security, civil liberties, privacy, and values,” ethical implications of AI advances are never specifically mentioned in the order, as Danks noted.

Danks, who earned an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship for his research “focused on the human impacts when autonomy is introduced into a technological system” told The Tartan that “the Executive Order should have emphasized the importance of integrating considerations of ethical and social impacts throughout all stages of AI creation.”

Danks argues that the above approach “would focus on understanding an AI’s potential to advance or harm people’s values and interests, rather than a purely legalistic approach that emphasizes prohibitions and checklists of requirements.”

Considering that none of the regulatory and oversight agencies have been established, and how funding is yet to be decided by Congress, the potential outcomes of the “Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence” are vast. But as Carnegie Mellon continues to make significant strides in AI research, future federal research priorities and guidelines will only continue to have importance to the university.