The US bans exports of AI software that analyzes satellite imagery

A map showing methane levels in the United States. (Descartes Labs)

The US government will block exports of AI-enabled satellite image processing technology to all countries but Canada, according to a Buearu of Industry and Security posting. The law goes into effect January 6, 2020.

AI analysis in geospatial imagery is used to tag areas of interest, track vehicle and equipment locations and monitor the environment -- from weather patterns to the spread of wildfires. The US has implemented the ban for national security reasons, according to Reuters:

The measure is the first to be finalized by the Commerce Department under a mandate from a 2018 law, which tasked the agency with writing rules to boost oversight of exports of sensitive technology to adversaries like China, for economic and security reasons.

While the ban may be designed to slow the pace at which national rivals can compete up to the US in some pockets of image analysis, some don't think the law will do much to stop development outside America.

From The Verge:

Regardless of the importance of this software it’s unlikely an export ban will have much of an effect on China or other rivals’ development of these tools. Although certain programs may be restricted, it’s often the case that the underlying research is freely available online, allowing engineers to recreate any software for themselves.

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