Energy Secretary Rick Perry says the U.S. must spend more on energy innovation to keep ahead of rivals such as China and Russia.
WASHINGTON — Outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, in one of his final acts, pledged millions of dollars to an “innovation-incubator” program that President Trump once sought to eliminate.
In his last public speech, Perry committed the department to spend $20 million – later revised to $15 million — for projects on artificial intelligence aimed at increasing innovation in energy technology. Perry said research is needed to help to keep ahead of rivals such as China and Russia.
“We can’t fall behind. This race toward supercomputers and artificial intelligence is ongoing, and the Chinese are spending massive amounts of money to get to quantum computing,” Perry told business leaders at a luncheon hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “And whoever gets to quantum first, wins.”
The Energy Department said the money has been designed for 23 projects that incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into energy technology. The effort will be overseen by the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, which advances DOE-backed projects that are too early in development to receive private investment.
The program was targeted for elimination in White House budget proposals in 2017 and 2018. The proposals sought to slash funding for the agency by 95% before eventually shuttering it completely, citing a duplication of efforts elsewhere within the government.
The projects are intended to tackle “next-generation energy challenges,” and “to help engineers execute and solve these problems in a manner that dramatically accelerates the pace of energy innovation,” the DOE said.
Perry argued the competition between American, Chinese and Russian businesses to employ artificial intelligence and machine learning in the energy sector is “blatantly unfair.”
“China and Russia want to make entire continents economically dependent on them and politically subservient to their ways and their will,” he asserted.
When asked about the biggest challenge facing the Energy Department, Perry said that protecting the American energy infrastructure from countries like China is critical. Perry also highlighted the need for the U.S. to maintain its position as a leader in innovation.
“In 18 months, we will have two new ‘exascale supercomputers’ that are 30 times faster than the supercomputers we have today. That kind of innovation is why we cannot fall behind,” Perry said. “In partnership with the American private sector, we can deliver these kinds of tools to our allies around the world that enable them to protect themselves.”
Perry announced his resignation on Oct. 17 and will leave office at year’s end. He was subpoenaed last month by House Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump, but has refused to comply.