Trump Preparing Plan to Boost AI, 5G Technology

The Wall Street Journal

The two areas represent arenas of growing competition between the U.S. and China

Next-generation 5G wireless promises to bring far faster speeds and greater capacity to wireless networks.

Next-generation 5G wireless promises to bring far faster speeds and greater capacity to wireless networks. PHOTO: MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS6 COMMENTSByJohn D. McKinnonFeb. 6, 2019 12:34 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—President Trump is preparing an ambitious plan to ramp up the government’s role in speeding next-generation technologies such as 5G wireless and artificial intelligence, two key areas of competition with China.

In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Trump said he would work with lawmakers on an infrastructure package, one that would include “investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future.”

“This is not an option. This is a necessity,” the president said.

While the reference in Tuesday’s speech was brief, administration officials say it foreshadows a larger effort. They say the president is preparing to issue a series of executive orders soon aimed at boosting the U.S. strength in advanced technology.

Those could include more ways of leveraging the sprawling federal government’s resources to advance artificial intelligence, these people say. The U.S. also is looking to encourage new corporate competitors into the 5G race, fearful that Chinese competitors could gain an insurmountable global lead in the years to come.

Mr. Trump’s commitment “will ensure … that the American innovation ecosystem remains the envy of the world for generations to come,” Michael Kratsios, a top White House technology policy aide, said in a statement.

Other administration ambitions likely will require action by Congress, including for workforce-training modernization, new research and development spending, and greater use of some of the government’s vast reservoirs of data for use in artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is software that enables computers to emulate human intelligence, handling tasks such as recognizing and processing images or language in a range of applications, including autonomous vehicles, and requires large amounts of data to be effective.

Next-generation 5G wireless promises to bring far faster speeds and greater capacity to wireless networks, and is expected to become the backbone for revolutionary applications such as autonomous vehicles.

Both AI and 5G are potentially huge global growth areas for U.S. tech businesses. But the U.S. faces increasingly tough competition from China, which has invoked industrial policies aimed at making it a leader in advanced technology.

That has spawned concerns that U.S. dominance in technology is vulnerable.

“The U.S. won the first 25 years of the mass-market consumer internet,” said Alec Ross, an innovation adviser to Hillary Clinton when she was U.S. secretary of state. “It’s an open question whether we can win the next 15 … in a couple of fields, particularly AI, we risk losing ground if we don’t raise our game.”

On 5G, U.S. officials are focused on ensuring a secure supply chain. The fear is that if Chinese firms such as Huawei Technologies Co. come to dominate equipment manufacturing, that could leave the West with no competitive suppliers. That has led to talk of encouraging new domestic entrants and also boosting potential suppliers from Japan and Korea.

For AI, administration officials have explored making more use of the technology inside the government, turning Washington into a kind of incubator. The administration also is looking at ways to liberate more of the government’s data for use in AI, although it must be careful not to run afoul of privacy concerns.

The administration also must worry about some of the domestic fallout from the new industries of the future, particularly for current workers. AI in particular is expected to have dramatic workforce impacts on sectors such as transportation.

Ivanka Trump, special adviser to Mr. Trump, has been particularly focused on workforce development and preparing workers for the jobs of the future. She said in a statement on Tuesday that the administration is “committed to ensuring that America is positioned for dominance in the industries of the future.”

Write to John D. McKinnon at john.mckinnon@wsj.com