The US Department of Commerce wants to regulate export of AI and related products

3 min read

This Monday the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) published a proposal to control the export of AI from USA. This move seems to lean towards restricting AI tech going out of the country to protect the national security of USA.

The areas that come under the licensing proposal

Artificial intelligence, as we’ve seen in recent years has great potential for both good and harm. The DoC in the United States of America is not taking any chances with it. The proposal lists many areas of AI that could potentially require a license to be exported to certain countries. Other than computer vision, natural language processing, military-specific products like adaptive camouflage and faceprint for surveillance is also listed in the proposal to restrict the export of AI.

The areas major areas listed in the proposal are:

  1. Biotechnology including genomic and genetic engineering
  2. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning including neural networks, computer vision, and natural language processing
  3. Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) technology
  4. Microprocessor technology like stacked memory on chip
  5. Advanced computing technology like memory-centric logic
  6. Data analytics technology like data analytics by visualization and analysis algorithms
  7. Quantum information and sensing technology like quantum computing, encryption, and sensing
  8. Logistics technology like mobile electric power
  9. Additive manufacturing like 3D printing
  10. Robotics like micro drones and molecular robotics
  11. Brain-computer interfaces like mind-machine interfaces
  12. Hypersonics like flight control algorithms
  13. Advanced Materials like adaptive camouflage
  14. Advanced surveillance technologies faceprint and voiceprint technologies
  1. David Edelman, a former adviser to ex-US president Barack Obama said: “This is intended to be a shot across the bow, directed specifically at Beijing, in an attempt to flex their muscles on just how broad these restrictions could be”.

Countries that could be affected with regulation on export of AI

To determine the level of export controls, the department will consider the potential end-uses and end-users of the technology. The list of countries is not clear but ones to which exports are restricted like embargoed countries will be considered. Also, China could be one of them.

What does this mean for companies?

If your organization creates products in ‘emerging technologies’ then there will be restrictions on the countries you can export to and also on disclosure of technology to foreign nationals in United States. Depending on the criteria, non-US citizens might even need licenses to participate in research and development of such technology.

This will restrict non-US citizens to participate and take back anything from, say an advanced AI research project.

If the new regulations go into effect, it will affect the security review of foreign investments across these areas. When the list of technologies is finalized, many types of foreign investments will be subject to a review and deals could be halted or undone.

Public views on academic research

In addition to commercial applications and products, this regulation could also be bad news for academic research.

Even Google Home, Amazon Alexa, iRobot Roomba could be affected.

But it does not look like research papers will be really affected. The document states that the commerce does not intend to expand jurisdiction on ‘fundamental research’ for ‘emerging technologies’ that is intended to be published and not currently subject to EAR as per § 734.8.

But will this affect open-source technologies? We really hope not.

Deadline for comments is less than 30 days away

BIS has invited comments to the proposal for defining and categorizing emerging technologies, the impact of the controls in US technology leadership among other topics. However the short deadline of December 19, 2018 indicates their haste to implement licensing export of AI quickly.

For more details, and to know where you can submit your comments, read the proposal.

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