The US Commerce Department plans to put export controls for certain emerging technologies like AI

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Last year, the US Commerce Department issued a notice named advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) that lists some emerging technologies on which export controls will be employed. The list includes fourteen categories including AI, quantum computing, robotics, advanced materials, and advanced surveillance technologies, among others.

This notice called for public opinion on the criteria according to which these emerging technologies will be identified that are essential to U.S. national security. The public was requested to submit their comments on or before December 19, 2018, which is now extended to January 10, 2019. After identifying an emerging or foundational technology based on public comments, the Commerce Department will be authorized under the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) of 2018 to establish “appropriate controls” on “emerging and foundational technologies”.

Will employing export rules on emerging technologies be successful?

A technology policy researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, R. David Edelman believes that it is nearly impossible to classify technologies in two categories: military or commercial. He told to the New York Times, “trying to draw a line between what is military and what is commercial is exceedingly difficult. It may be impossible.

Another point to note here is that the research on these ever dynamic technologies is often done by scientists and engineers collaboratively all over the world, so we cannot really claim that the product is entirely developed by America.

Also, companies and other researchers working on these technologies open source their work in hopes that some other researcher will be able to further develop the tool or technology. This is why policy experts believe that these US restrictions will have very little effect on the progress of AI in China and other countries.

The government is unlikely to restrict companies and universities from publishing results of their AI research. But Greg Jaeger, a lawyer at the law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan who deals with export controls told NYT that the government could restrict foreign access to that information. One of the Hacker News readers wondered, “I’m curious how export restrictions would affect open source projects like Tensorflow and PyTorch. Would they be forced to become closed source? Could the license just include a disclaimer: “You’re not allowed to use this if you’re in one of the following countries: …”? Would sites like Gitlab and Github be forced to implement per-repo geoblocking? Could they somehow be moved to ownership by a non-American entity that wasn’t subject to such code? Does a US citizen contributing to a non-US open source ML project constitute a breach of export controls?”.

They could also put control over the export of cloud-computing technology and computer chips related to artificial intelligence. These restrictive rules can prevent researchers from other countries from working on certain technologies in the US. They would rather choose other countries such as Europe. “It might be easier for people to just do this stuff in Europe,” said Jason Waite, a lawyer with the firm Alston & Bird who specializes in international trade, in the NYT interview.

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