Former Google CEO Wants to Create a Government-Funded University to Train A.I. Coders

The Digital Service Academy would compete with Stanford and MIT

Photos: Ungureanu Vadim/EyeEm/Boston Globe/Photofusion/Getty Images

The U.S. government’s approach of letting Silicon Valley drive the country’s technological boom has left the government itself scrambling for tech talent.

Now, a federal commission led by ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work wants to create a university to train new government coders.

The school would be called the U.S. Digital Service Academy, and it would be an accredited, degree-awarding university that trains students in digital skills like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Students would get a traditional school year of coursework, with internships in the public and private sector during summers.

The Digital Service Academy would theoretically supply the United States with a fresh stream of young talent already ideologically invested in serving the federal government. However, it would compete with elite institutions like Stanford and MIT, where graduates often have their pick of private-sector work and can still go into the public sector if they choose.

“If the recruitment only happens where the roads are paved, you’ve missed a lot of opportunities and a lot of talent.”

The commission set to recommend the new institution, called the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), unanimously voted to make the recommendation in an upcoming report to Congress during a publicly broadcast meeting on July 20.

NSCAI commissioner and former FCC head Mignon Clyburn raised the issue that whatever organization Congress created would have to make an effort to be inclusive in its recruitment.

“Talent comes in many forms and from many places,” Clyburn said. “If the recruitment only happens where the roads are paved, you’ve missed a lot of opportunities and a lot of talent.”

Congress created the NSCAI in 2018 as a response to China’s drastic investment into artificial intelligence. It taps industry and government veterans to rethink how the government funds and sanctions artificial intelligence efforts.

“As I speak, China and Russia are striving to overtake us. Neither of these nations shares our values, or our freedoms.”

“We are engaged in an epic race for A.I. supremacy,” Rick Perry, secretary of the Department of Energy, said at an NSCAI conference in 2019. “As I speak, China and Russia are striving to overtake us. Neither of these nations shares our values or our freedoms.”

This meeting is the first that has been publicly broadcast, a mandated improvement in transparency after a district court determined that the NSCAI was not complying with federal laws that required its meetings to be disclosed to the public. The Electronic Privacy Information Center brought the lawsuit that found the NSCAI to be acting illegally.

The commission also voted to recommend 10 other initiatives, like an expansion of the Scholarship for Service program, and to create a National Reserve Digital Corps. In the Digital Corps, volunteers would work 38 days a year for the government and receive access to educational funds in return. These volunteers would do everything from A.I. education to data acquisition to project consulting to networking between the public and private sector.

Other recommendations focus on federal policy, like export controls for technology and software leaving the United States, as well as more in-depth screening of foreign investment into American tech companies.

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.

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