US pledges to limit export controls on advanced tech

Donald Trump’s plans to slap controls on US exports of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies will be far narrower than initially feared by Silicon Valley when the move was unveiled last year, according to a senior White House official.

Lynne Parker, the assistant director of artificial intelligence at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said on Thursday that the list of technologies that will eventually be targeted by the Trump administration will be much shorter than an initial list published last November would suggest.

Speaking at the Center for a New American Security, Ms Parker said: “Don’t take from that notice of proposed rulemaking — the very broad nature of that list — don’t take it to mean what’s going to be export-controlled.

“There are lots of civilian applications, lots of applications that could somewhat easily be turned into military applications, but we are not going to export control the entirety of all those broad fields.”

The US move to consider export controls on emerging technologies was seen as being directly aimed at preventing China from gaining an edge in innovation that could harm US national security. It also accompanied the Trump administration’s broader trade war against Beijing.

Mr Trump is now within striking distance of an agreement to ease trade tensions with China, which could reduce the impetus in the US to take more aggressive measures against Beijing in other areas like export controls. The prospect of sweeping export controls had raised concerns in the US technology sector, where many companies feared losing a big export market, as well as access to Chinese research to develop their products. 

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Speaking to an audience of technology and AI specialists, Ms Parker urged companies to help the White House formulate its plans. “When the requests for information are out, be sure to provide examples perhaps of areas that could be export controlled — some more narrow areas.

“Much more narrow areas will be the ones that will be considered, not the entirety of the field of AI.”

Mr Trump surprised many in the telecoms industry last week when he appeared to reject calls from some in his administration to ban US telecoms companies from using equipment made by the Chinese company Huawei, which some warn could by used by Beijing for spying. The US president stressed at the time that he did not want to block technologies from other countries: “I want fair competition.” 

His tone was echoed on Thursday by Michael Kratsios, the president’s deputy assistant for technology policy. Speaking alongside Ms Parker, Mr Kratsios said: “We will do everything in our power to preserve American superiority in AI without ever compromising our values . . . We will protect privacy, free and open markets, and intellectual property rights.”

Additional reporting by James Politi



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