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InfoQ Homepage News U.S. Commerce Dept Proposes Rulemaking for Export Control of Emerging Technologies Including AI

U.S. Commerce Dept Proposes Rulemaking for Export Control of Emerging Technologies Including AI

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In the Federal Register, the official journal of the federal government of the United States, an article titled "Review of Controls for Certain Emerging Technologies" [PDF link] outlines proposed rulemaking for export control of "emerging technologies", which includes a wide range of categories such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and robotics.

As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the United States Congress enacted the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) of 2018. Section 1758 of ECRA authorises the U.S. Commerce Department to establish "appropriate controls" on "emerging and foundational technologies", which include "interim controls, on the export, re-export, or transfer (in country)" on the associated technologies. Under this act, emerging and foundational technologies are classified as those that are "essential to the national security of the United States".

The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) controls the export of dual-use and less sensitive military items through the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), including the Commerce Control List (CCL). Controls on exports of technology are a key component of the effort to protect sensitive U.S. technology. However, certain technologies may not currently be listed on the CCL because they are "emerging technologies", and as such, they have not yet been evaluated for their national security impacts.

The article in the Federal Register provides an Advance Notice of the Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) within this space, and asks for public comment by U.S. citizens on the criteria for identifying emerging technologies that are essential to U.S. national security. For example, could emerging technologies be "potential conventional weapons, intelligence collection, weapons of mass destruction, or terrorist applications" or could they provide the U.S with a "qualitative military or intelligence advantage".

The ANPRM lists several categories of technology subject to the existing Export Administration Regulations but are currently controlled only to "embargoed countries, countries designated as supporters of international terrorism, and restricted end uses or end users". The list of technologies is relatively long, and at the top level there are fourteen categories including biotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, robotics, advanced materials, and advanced surveillance technologies, amongst others.

On Twitter, R. David Edelman, an American policymaker and academic who currently directs the Project on Technology, the Economy, and National Security (TENS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, posted a link to the Federal Register article, and received many comments. He stated that the "[m]ove was largely expected following reforms to CFIUS & Export Controls signed earlier this year by [the President of the United States]", but he has concerns:

"Breadth of proposals are notable. "Natural Language Processing" is @Apple's Siri, @Google Home. "Computer Vision" is the @iRobot Roomba vacuum, @facebook Portal. "Expert Systems" are @IBM Watson.

He continued by discussing that the breadth of the list of technologies within the ANPRM is wide, and expressed concern that the "aggressive comment timeline" of the 19th December suggests that the current administration is moving faster than many commentators thought.

Other discussions within the Twitter thread question whether this could result in U.S. export controls of open source projects, which would in turn lead to fragmentation of code repositories and the global community of open source contributors. Other comments point out that there could be some similarity between the previous U.S. export controls on encryption that was enforced by U.S. law until 1992, with Ian Monroe commenting that "[d]uring the encryption export control days everything was just hosted overseas. It was all such a joke." Many commenters also wonder about the practicality of implementing such a regulation of emerging technologies.

The article states that commenting on this ANPRM will "help inform the interagency process to identify and describe such emerging technologies". Comments must be submitted on or before December 19, 2018, and can be made via the U.S. Federal eRulemaking Portal or via conventional mail to the address specified within the notice.

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