The Biden administration has launched a task force that will allow private companies like Google as well as researchers to access large sets of sensitive data about Americans that were previously collected and available only to the government.
The reasoning behind the initiative is supposedly to remain competitive with other countries, notably China and Russia, in the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Those who will be given access to this data will be expected to come up with “great ideas” on how to put AI to use.
The National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource Task Force will have 12 members from government, tech industry, and academia, including Google's head of cloud AI Andrew Moore, whose presence was explained by task force's co-chair Lynne Parker as the need to have cloud providers' “perspective.”
Among the records that are likely to become available to private companies are census, health, driving, and other data. The US government will also provide computers powerful enough to process these massive data sets, necessary to do any meaningful machine learning. Since tech giants already have technical means to deal with data at this scale, academia is expected to benefit from government-provided computing power.
Another co-chair of the task force, Erwin Gianchandani, acknowledged that giving access to sensitive data to outside entities will present “challenges” – regarding people's privacy – but suggested that if researches can find innovative ways “to make driving safer” that would mean it's worth sharing the Transportation Department's data from vehicle sensors that reveals people's driving habits.
Big Tech has a dismal record regarding privacy and the fact is that most of these corporations' business models are based on unscrupulous monetizing of private data, but for now, the task force has no clear rules on how to protect privacy. Instead, it is yet to “evaluate how to make such data available while protecting Americans' privacy and addressing other ethical concerns,” say reports.
National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said that the goal is to provide more speed and scale, and support innovation in AI, which is considered “crucial.” At the same time the US Senate just approved a bill aimed at spending $250 billion on technology research and development that was supported by both Democrats and Republicans.