Senate AI roadmap calls for $32 billion for AI programs

 (L-R) Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Todd Young, R-Ind, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and  Mike Rounds, R-S.D., talk to reporters after hosting a closed-door meeting on AI on Capitol Hill on September 13, 2023.

(L-R) Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Todd Young, R-Ind, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., talk to reporters after hosting a closed-door meeting on AI on Capitol Hill on September 13, 2023. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer unveiled the Senate AI Working Group’s policy recommendations, which include plans for emergency appropriations to be passed this year. Senate committees will start developing bills and Working Group leaders will kick off "serious discussions" about working with House leaders on a path to pass AI legislation.

The Bipartisan Senate AI Working Group, helmed by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Todd Young, R-Ind., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. and Mike Rounds, R-S.D. released its AI Framework on Wednesday morning, outlining the Senate's perspectives on how to best navigate the onset of rapid AI innovation in the U.S. 

The framework addresses eight focus areas based on the forums held by the working group that fall: supporting U.S. innovation in AI; AI and the workforce; high impact uses of AI; elections and democracy; privacy and liability; transparency, explainability, intellectual property and copyright; safeguarding against AI risks; and national security.

Its primary function is to complement the existing congressional committee structure, particularly emphasizing how committees can leverage their individual powers and oversight areas to support responsible AI development.

To execute significant domestic progress in the eight fields highlighted above, the working group recommends at least $32 billion in federal funding for non-defense AI innovation projects, as called for in the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence’s 2021 report. The authors call on the Senate Appropriations Committee to work with other relevant agencies in developing an emergency funding proposal to “fill the gap between current spending levels and the NSCA-recommended level.”

“We hope this roadmap will stimulate momentum for new and ongoing consideration of bipartisan AI legislation, ensure the United States remains at the forefront of innovation in this technology, and help all Americans benefit from the many opportunities created by AI,” the framework said. 

During a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Schumer said that the requested $32 billion in funding would be considered surge emergency funding to “cement America’s dominance in AI.”

Schumer said that the funding would be dispersed over a period of years.

“We do believe it's emergency funding,” he said during the press conference. “We're going to figure out the best way to get it done. It's not all in the first year.” 

Schumer also clarified that the $32 billion investment called for in the roadmap is non-defense discretionary spending and would support efforts at Departments of Energy, Commerce and elsewhere. He added that a similar investment would be needed to support defense applications of AI. He also said that the Senate group "now intend[s] to start serious discussions about working together" with House leadership about passing AI funding this year.

Among the themes that emerge within the focus areas, the framework advocates for steady funding to research-oriented entities like the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy National Lab network and microelectronics programs, and the Department of Commerce, among others.

Safeguarding copyright and intellectual property materials is also highlighted in the roadmap. Using watermarking and other tools to differentiate synthetic content from original was “discussed at length” in Senate forums.

The roadmap also cautions that the opaque nature of the algorithmic workings of AI systems “may raise questions about whether companies with such systems are appropriately abiding by existing laws,” and encourages committees “to consider identifying any gaps in the application of existing law to AI systems that fall under their committees’ jurisdiction and, as needed, develop legislative language to address such gaps.”

The roadmap states that such new language “should ensure that regulators are able to access information directly relevant to enforcing existing law and, if necessary, place appropriate, case-by-case requirements on high-risk uses of AI, such as requirements around transparency, explainability, and testing and evaluation.”   

The roadmap also notes it encourages committees to continue collaborating with external expertise to refine nomenclatures, standards and other best practices in the AI field.

“We hope committees will continue to seek outside input from a variety of stakeholders and experts to inform the best path forward for this quickly advancing technology,” the roadmap reads. 

The roadmap has been positively received by industry experts. 

“I think it’s no surprise to anyone when I say that this report has been [a] long time coming,”  Divyansh Kaushik, vice president at Beacon Global Strategies, told Nextgov/FCW. “The biggest takeaway for any member of Congress has to be that this can’t be another CHIPS and Science where we authorize a lot of money without appropriations.” 

Kaushik said that the requested $32 billion will be “critical” for the success of any accompanying legislative efforts on AI. The framework in fact calls out the outstanding funding under the CHIPS and Science Act as a priority within that $32 billion spend.

Other industry players agreed that robust funding is vital. TechNet President and CEO Linda Moore highlighted the need to specifically continue funding the U.S. AI Safety Institute, the National AI Research Resource and the Regional Innovation and Technology Hubs program.

“The Senate AI Roadmap will bolster our workforce through investments in upskilling and training programs and our ability to attract and retain the world’s best talent, policies TechNet has long championed and that are needed to counter actions being taken by our foreign competitors,” Moore said in a statement to Nextgov/FCW

This article was updated May 15, 2024 with new information.