Tech trade ban: Exporting AI is going to get harder, says US

US imposes new trade restrictions on companies exporting new technologies to rival powers.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The US government is making it harder for US companies to export artificial-intelligence software that helps organizations automate object recognition from geospatial imagery. 

The export restrictions, first reported by Reuters, are part of an attempt by the US to keep key technologies away from rival powers like China. 

The restrictions come into effect today, requiring US companies that export AI for automating geospatial analysis to apply for a license to sell products to other countries, with the exception of Canada. 

SEE: How to implement AI and machine learning (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The items subject to the new controls include "geospatial imagery software specially designed for training a deep convolutional neural network (deep CNN) to automate the analysis of geospatial imagery and point clouds". Point clouds refer to a collection of data points defined by a given coordinate system. 

The new controls specifically target software with a GUI that allows the user to identify objects such as vehicles and houses from geospatial imagery; software that reduces pixel distortions to extract positive and negative samples of an object of interest; and software that trains a deep CNN to detect objects of interest from those samples.    

The measure, announced by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), has been applied under the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) of 2018. It's an amendment to the Export Administration Regulations determined by the Department of Commerce, Defense and State. 

The agencies identify items that "warrant control for export because the items may provide a significant military or intelligence advantage to the United States or because foreign policy reasons justify control".

The ECRA attempts to restrict new 'foundational' dual-use technologies or technologies that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. ECRA was adopted amid heightened concerns about China's access to these technologies. 

SEE: Google DeepMind gamifies memory with its latest AI work

Reuters reports that the Commerce Department will finalize the new measure under its ECRA mandate.  

Republican and Democratic lawmakers want the Commerce Department to speed up the process of restricting sensitive technology exports. However, BIS notes that it wants to give the public an opportunity to respond to the restrictions. 

"This rule is being issued in interim final form because while the government believes that it is in the national security interests of the United States to immediately implement these controls, it also wants to provide the interested public with an opportunity to comment on the control of new items," BIS said.  

More on US and China trade ban

  • After Mate 30, Huawei set to launch P40 without key Google apps
  • Huawei to DoJ: We didn't steal smartphone camera patent
  • Google to Huawei: Your new 5G Mate 30 Pro will launch without Google apps
  • Trump: Tim Cook makes good case that China tariffs harm Apple, aid Samsung
  • Trump's Huawei attacks help brand hit all-time high in China at iPhone's expense
  • Huawei trade ban: US officials figure out how to handle Trump's U-turn
  • Huawei CEO: Our 'Plan B' OS is likely to be 60% faster than Android
  • Seriously? Cisco put Huawei X.509 certificates and keys into its own switches
  • Huawei's Android puzzle: Is Linux Sailfish now an option alongside its own OS?
  • S&P warns Huawei ban will hit US tech long-term
  • Trump: Huawei block could be solved in China trade deal
  • Huawei's laptop division cancelling orders amid rumors of exiting PC market TechRepublic
  • Huawei ban: Full timeline on how and why its phones are under fire CNET
  • Editorial standards