Democratize AI? How the proposed National AI Research Resource falls short

A submission by the AI Now Institute and Data & Society Research Institute

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently launched the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR) with the stated goal of “democratizing” access to AI research. This “National Research Cloud”, which will draw hundreds of millions in federal funding, purports to create a shared research and data infrastructure that provides AI researchers with access to computational power, high-quality government datasets, and other resources.

In response to OSTP and NSF’s request for information, the AI Now Institute and Data & Society Research Institute submitted detailed comments on their implementation plans.

While the NAIRR attempts to grapple with issues around access and the resources required to produce AI and similar technologies, we argue that the project falls far short in its efforts to ‘democratize’ AI. We encourage the Task Force to fundamentally reconsider whether the investment in shared computing and data infrastructure is consistent with the Biden Administration’s explicit commitment to challenging the concentrated power of the tech industry.

We emphasize that the only plausible short- to mid-term path to implementing the infrastructure required for the NAIRR would be to license it from the same large tech companies responsible for concentrating tech power. While the NAIRR claims to ‘democratize’ access to AI resources as a way to contend with tech companies’ concentrated power, in reality it would work to expand and entrench the power and control these companies.

As the Task Force pushes forward on its implementation plans and required reports to Congress, we encourage them to consider alternative policy strategies to reduce the power and control of the handful of companies currently dominating AI and AI research. The Task Force should ensure that the determinations about whether AI is developed and deployed are subject to more democratic deliberation.

Below, we summarize our five key arguments from our submitted comments:

In our expanded comment, we express concerns about the stated aims for the NAIRR, and offer alternative policy strategies to support research into AI and to expand access to data, resources, and educational opportunities. Our comments urge the NAIRR Task Force to recommend that Congress consider alternative spending priorities and deeper engagement on the harms unleashed by uncritical investment in AI.

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Researching the social implications of artificial intelligence now to ensure a more equitable future

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AI Now Institute

Researching the social implications of artificial intelligence now to ensure a more equitable future