Support for the project has primarily focused on maintaining the U.S. lead in AI development.
The National Research Cloud, originally proposed in March, has received the support of several major technology companies. The project could provide academics with the resources normally only available to large cloud computing companies – Google, Amazon, and Microsoft – through the use of federal funds.
It has received broad support in the House and the Senate, and The Trump Administration has proposed doubling federal spending on AI research by 2022. Support for the project has primarily focused on maintaining the U.S. lead in AI development, as China continues to invest heavily in domestic research and startups.
In Xi Jinping’s grand vision for China, he said AI development is a “national priority” and aims for China to lead the world by 2030. Several politicians and AI experts are worried about national security and economic implications if China manages to surpass America.
Unlike previous federal involvement in research, the Stanford professors who proposed the National Research Cloud say they must use public cloud infrastructure. This is due to the immense scale necessary to train and run advanced AI calculations.
“We need to get scientific research on the public cloud,” said Ed Lazowska, a professor at the University of Washington, to the New York Times. “We have to hitch ourselves to that wagon. It’s the only way to keep up.”
One would worry that without a dedicated federal data center (or centers), funds may be haphazardly handed over to academics without proper oversight or judgement. However, as federal interest in research appears to be at an all-time low – aside from when it relates to national security – this currently may be the smartest option.