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Congress just voted to spend $10 billion on AI, quantum computing

All the attention is on Section 230, but the Industries of the Future Act could be a windfall for tech.

Congress just voted to spend $10 billion on AI, quantum computing

The Senate passed the NDAA 84-13 on Friday, reaching the supermajority needed to override a Trump veto.

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Much of the tech industry's focus on the National Defense Authorization Act has revolved around President Trump's threat to veto the must-pass defense spending bill because it does not repeal Section 230. But the final version of the NDAA, passed by a vast majority of both chambers this week, contains a little-noticed provision that promises to reverberate across the industry: a pledge to increase government spending on artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G technology by $10 billion annually over the next five years.

It's unclear exactly how much the government spends to bolster those technologies today, but it's likely closer to $1.5 billion. The Industries of the Future Act of 2020, which was supported by IBM and software industry trade group BSA, was introduced earlier this year amid a broader push from the White House — and Ivanka Trump — to invest more government resources in "industries of the future," meaning emerging technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence. It's part of a broader effort to funnel more resources toward ensuring the U.S. has a leg up on China in the so-called "race" to technological dominance.

The legislation will require the government to formulate a "detailed plan" to increase non-defense investments in AI, quantum computing, 5G and advanced manufacturing to $10 billion per year by fiscal year 2025. It will also require the administration to develop a report to figure out how much the government is spending on R&D programs focused on those industries and double baseline investments by 2022.

"IBM is glad the Industries of the Future Act of 2020 was included in the NDAA bill that passed through Congress with overwhelming and bipartisan support," said Chris Padilla, IBM's vice president of government and regulatory affairs. "This legislation increases investment in essential research in order to unlock new breakthroughs in industries like quantum computing, AI and 5G, expand America's technological leadership and ensure we have a workforce with the right skills for the jobs of the 21st century."

The Biden administration will have to figure out how to dole out the money and which companies should receive a significant sum. But it's certain to be a windfall for the largest tech companies working on AI, quantum and 5G technologies, including Microsoft, IBM and Amazon.

Though Trump has vowed to veto the NDAA, the legislation codifies numerous elements of an AI executive order he signed in 2019, including the creation of a Select Committee on AI and multibillion-dollar research institutes.

Congress passed the $740 billion defense bill with a supermajority in both chambers, meaning it is positioned to override any veto from Trump.

"Our nation's investments in research, development and innovation have made the U.S. a global leader in science and technology," Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker said.

Earlier this week, Wicker tried to help push Section 230 reform language into the NDAA in an effort to appease Trump. But he voted for the bill on Friday. "This year's NDAA would support the advancement of next-generation technologies and generate cutting-edge breakthroughs in cybersecurity," he said.

Big Tech benefits from Biden’s sweeping immigration actions

Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai praised President Biden's immigration actions, which read like a tech industry wishlist.

Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden signed two immigration-related executive orders on Wednesday.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Immediately after being sworn in as president Wednesday, Joe Biden signed two pro-immigration executive orders and delivered an immigration bill to Congress that reads like a tech industry wishlist. The move drew enthusiastic praise from tech leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.

President Biden nullified several of former-President Trump's most hawkish immigration policies. His executive orders reversed the so-called "Muslim ban" and instructed the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which the Trump administration had sought to end. He also sent an expansive immigration reform bill to Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals and make it easier for foreign U.S. graduates with STEM degrees to stay in the United States, among other provisions.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

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