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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.  

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