AI governmental initiatives

Artificial intelligence (AI), an umbrella term now often used to refer to machine learning, computational neuroscience, and deep learning, is no longer a product of the vibrant imagination of science fiction writers, or a topic that only preoccupies the attention of the scientific community. AI applications ‒ from smart personal assistants to driverless cars ‒ are becoming part of our daily reality. As AI climbs national and international policy agendas worldwide, some countries are also vying for AI dominance.

AI plans and strategies

Countries are increasingly understanding that they need to keep up with AI progress and to take advantage of it. Many are elaborating national AI strategies and plans, as well as addressing the economic, social, and ethical implications of AI advancements. 

According to DiploFoundation’s study on Mapping the challenges and opportunities of AI for the conduct of diplomacy, a total of 14 countries had official AI strategies in place in January 2019. Other countries have since followed suit, as new national AI strategies are being published or are in the making. We continue to follow this trend via our periodically updated map of national AI strategies.

Last updated: March 2022

Leadership in AI and economic prosperity are among the main goals of national AI strategies. In addition, governments outline objectives for AI development and implementation, and ways of mitigating AI’s potential negative impact on the wellbeing of society (from employment challenges to societal inequalities). 

The Chinese strategy, published in 2017, sets out three fundamental goals: (a) reach a level of AI development that is comparable with globally advanced levels by 2020; (b) achieve major breakthroughs in the basic theories of AI by 2025; and, (c) be a world leader in AI theories, technologies, and applications by 2030. The objective of global leadership also features in the German strategy in which the country wants to secure ‘artificial intelligence made in Germany’ as a ‘globally recognised quality mark’. Ten of the official national AI strategies explicitly cite leadership aspirations.

Economic prosperity resulting from innovations in AI is also a primary objective. South Korea highlights that intelligent IT should generate revenue amounting to KRW 460 trillion (~ €340 billion) by 2030, while China estimates that 26% of its GDP will be derived from AI-related activities by that same year. In a similar fashion, India’s strategy ‘#AIforall’ expects AI to increase its annual economic growth rate by 1.3% by 2035.

The high relevance of data for AI is reflected in nearly all AI official strategies. Its availability is seen as the driving force behind the development of AI.

Some countries, including Denmark and Japan, highlight the need for access to and digitalisation of publicly held data so as to develop AI-related capacities. 

The future of work is another recurrent topic in most AI strategies, given the impact that AI and robotics have on employment in the context of the fourth industrial revolution. Transforming education systems so that they adapt to the future needs of the labour market while they establish measures that correspond to technological change ‒ such as the promotion of self-employment ‒ are among the measures envisioned by the Czech Republic. For Luxembourg, priorities include re- and up-skilling the workforce based on an assessment of future needs of AI-related skills, and integrating AI in secondary and post-secondary curricula. 

Many AI plans put an emphasis on the need to support and encourage AI research and development activities. Research is key for AI in Sweden: The country intends to promote both basic and applied research in AI. For Japan, one objective is to address the shortage of AI researchers, while increasing financial investments in universities and research centres. China needs to strengthen research in AI in multiple fields, as this would help achieve its objective to lead the development of AI globally. 

AI is generally not regarded as an objective or as an end in itself, but rather as a tool at the service of society that can be used to pursue economic, commercial, and public interests. To this end, most official documents address ethics-encompassing issues such as the responsible use of AI, as well as respect for privacy, transparency, and equality. Canada, for example, plans to contribute to international projects on responsible and ethical AI, through its Institute for Advanced Research, while the UK’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is tasked with ensuring safe and ethical innovations in AI. Several national AI strategies have objectives that go beyond sovereign borders, and include goals related to fostering international co-operation in AI.

Last updated: December 2020

Beyond national strategic documents

Countries that have already published national AI plans and strategies now need to work on their implementation. This is being done by launching new initiatives on an ongoing basis to ensure that existing objectives are met, and can include actions such as allocating financial resources to support research and innovation and educating citizens on AI-related issues. The UK government, for example, has committed £250 million for AI in health and £100 million for AI-focused higher education. The United Arab Emirates launched the Think AI Initiative that is focused on accelerating the integration of AI in strategic sectors such as infrastructure and governance, and formed a council to oversee AI integration in the public and educational sectors.

In some countries, national strategic documents are complemented by sectoral plans. In the USA, for example, the American AI Initiative issued by President Donald Trump is accompanied by specific plans and initiatives that have been developed by entities such as the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. The development of AI strategies is not limited to countries and national institutions; it has been happening on the regional and state levels as well. The Flemish region in Belgium adopted its own AI plan in early 2019, while the state of New York created an AI, Robotics and Automation Commission to study certain AI-related issues and make recommendations. 

AI has clearly entered mainstream political debate, including at parliamentary level. In April 2018 , a Select Committee on AI in the UK House of Lords issued a series of recommendations to support the government and other stakeholders in realising the potential of AI for society and the economy. The two chambers of the US Congress often debate bills that touch on AI issues; one such bill led to the establishment of the National Security Commission on AI. 

Diverse AI initiatives can also be observed in countries that do not yet have national AI strategies. Slovenia, for example, is working with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to set up an international AI research centre.