A bipartisan group of Senators proposed a new bill Tuesday that would invest $2.2 billion in artificial intelligence over the next five years through federal agency grants in an effort to match China’s push to lead the AI innovation space.

Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act

is the first piece of legislation to arrive out of their new AI caucus and is focused on setting a new national AI strategy to establish ethical standards and designate research and development priorities.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). Official Senate photo.

The bill includes a strategic plan to dole out the $2.2 billion in grants for research, development and application of AI through the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

“A national strategy on AI is long overdue. We’ll never compete with China from a federal spending level, but we still have time to make targeted investments in the foundation of American ingenuity, to develop AI responsibly and to preserve our technological edge,” Heinrich told reporters.

Heinrich acknowledged China is investing tens of billions of dollars in AI, adding the legislation intends to create a national strategy to “outcompete the Chinese in the long run” and ensure the U.S. sets international standards for technology application.

“China’s emergence in the AI space poses a grave danger to an ethical, global adoption of standards and uses of these technologies,” Heinrich said, noting the country’s use of the new tools for mass surveillance projects. “It’s probably not reasonable to think that we’re going to match [China] on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Where we can exceed the Chinese is in innovation, and having the sort of environment that facilitates both innovation and respect for ethical conduct.”

The bill would also allocate $40 million a year for NIST to develop AI evaluation standards and $20 million annually to establish new AI research centers, and includes a directive to stand up a National AI Coordination Office.

The White House released signed an executive order in February establishing the first national artificial intelligence initiative, which Heinrich said didn’t establish the necessary level of interagency coordination.

“I do think the White House will be able to mesh pretty effectively with our legislative structure moving forward. What this does is it brings the resources and it requires a level of coordination that does not currently exist,” Heinrich told reporters.

Heinrich said the bill is less about overprescribing how a national vision for AI should be implemented and is instead focused on ensuring agencies are adequately resourced to achieve research and development initiatives.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) is working on companion legislation in the House, according to Heinrich.