APS News

October 2023 (Volume 32, Number 10)

White House Sets Research Priorities for 2025, Emphasizing “Trustworthy” AI and US Competitiveness

By Jacob Taylor | September 14, 2023

White House photo
Credit: Bill Chizek / Adobe

The White House released its annual R&D priorities memo on Aug. 17, intended to inform science agencies’ budget requests for fiscal year 2025. The memo stresses that agencies will need to make “clear choices” in the face of new limits on federal spending.

Issued, as always, by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget, the memo is the first to be signed by Arati Prabhakar, who was sworn in as OSTP director and President Biden’s science adviser last October.

At four pages, the memo is less than half the length of last year’s, but lists new priorities, including “trustworthy” AI development, regional innovation, research security assistance, and benchmarking US competitiveness in science and technology. It also encourages agencies to experiment with “new approaches” to research funding. Largely unchanged are priorities related to strengthening the STEM workforce, promoting equity and inclusivity in STEM, addressing climate change, and bolstering national security.

Compared to last year’s memo, the administration is emphasizing the need to develop “trustworthy” artificial intelligence; the memo calls AI “one of the most powerful technologies of our time.” It instructs federal agencies to develop new AI tools for a suite of ambitious goals, including — among other things — to “advance solutions to the nation’s challenges that other sectors will not address on their own” and “tackle large societal challenges.”

The memo also calls for agencies to help design regulations to mitigate threats that AI poses to “truth, trust, and democracy.”

The memo also calls on agencies to “assess and benchmark” US technological competitiveness — an instruction related to the CHIPS and Science Act, which requires OSTP to produce quadrennial reviews on the state of global competition in science and technology, potential threats to US science and technology leadership, and opportunities for international collaboration.

The memo also backs recent efforts to foster regional innovation — that is, to develop technological hubs across the US, beyond existing hubs like Silicon Valley. Congress supported such efforts through the CHIPS Act, and the Biden administration has pushed ahead with NSF and Commerce Department programs, authorized by the act, that invest in regional initiatives. However, the act’s ambitious vision is unlikely to be realized under tightened budgets.

As part of its focus on regional innovation, the memo also directs agencies to emphasize “emerging research institutions and historically underserved communities.” Recent agency initiatives include the Department of Energy’s RENEW (Reaching a New Energy Sciences Workforce) and FAIR (Funding for Accelerated, Inclusive Research), which focus respectively on diversifying the workforce through training and building institutions’ capacity for research. NSF is also ramping up efforts: Its GRANTED (Growing Research Access for Nationally Transformative Equity and Diversity) initiative, for example, aims to help institutions better support federally funded research.

The memo further directs agencies to support the academic and industrial sectors in “identifying and addressing research security challenges.” While protecting research against exploitation by rival governments has been a federal priority for years, last year’s memo did not explicitly address it.

Jacob Taylor is a senior editor of science policy at the American Institute of Physics.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Taryn MacKinney

October 2023 (Volume 32, Number 10)

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APS Announces Recipients of the Fall 2023 Prizes and Awards
Opinion: Climate Doomism Disregards the Science
As the Congressional Science Fellowship Turns 50, Former Fellows Reflect on Their Experience — and Where They Are Now
White House Sets Research Priorities for 2025, Emphasizing “Trustworthy” AI and US Competitiveness