The struggle to balance national security concerns with innovation continues as the Commerce Department listed artificial intelligence as one of the multiple items under the scanner for new export rules.
The limitations that the department has placed on these earmarked items could range from requiring companies to get a license before selling tech to full bans on certain facets of AI in various nations.
The prospect of curbing AI exports has put many Silicon Valley startups on edge, as AI is the cornerstone of their research and development. They're worried about competition from countries like China. China has aggressively invested in the technology, and plans to be a global leader in AI development by 2030.
"The number of cases where exports can be sufficiently controlled are very, very, very small, and the chance of making an error is quite large," said Jack Clark of OpenAI, an artificial intelligence lab in San Francisco. "If this goes wrong, it could do real damage to the A.I. community."
The consequences of a potential curb could also extend to the labor force, as employees could relocate to areas where they feel their talent is more valued. This has serious implications for the US-China trade war, with China having the potential to siphon off engineering talent from the US.
Policymakers claim that AI has a "dual-use," which ranges from commercial applications to potentially harmful uses in the military and in weaponry.
R. David Edelman of MIT says "trying to draw a line between what is military and what is commercial is exceedingly difficult. It may be impossible." He also said, "The core of these technologies is international and freely available. No country - the U.S. or China - has a monopoly on that."
Thus, the export restriction could also be a hindrance to the open flow of information principle that AI is built on, where AI companies are often extremely transparent regarding the work they do in the hopes that other researchers will build on existing data to ultimately uncover more knowledge.