The plan, called the American AI Initiative, comes after China and other countries have pledged big investments to advance and apply AI technology in fields ranging from warfighting to health care.
The White House plan doesn't include any funding details. The administration says it's up to Congress to appropriate money.
The order directs federal agencies to make government data and computing resources more available to artificial intelligence experts while maintaining security and confidentiality.
It also says federal agencies will establish guidance to ensure the new technologies are developed in a safe, trustworthy way.
The initiative calls on federal agencies to help workers gain relevant skills through fellowships, apprenticeships, training programs and computer science education.
Tech leaders have pushed the Trump administration to develop a national AI strategy. The White House in December hosted a listening session with the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Qualcomm to field ideas for securing American dominance in AI and other fields such as quantum computing and faster wireless technology known as 5G. Trump made brief mention of technology at this month's State of the Union address, pledging "investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future."
Kate Crawford, a co-director of New York University's AI Now Institute for studying the social implications of artificial intelligence, said the directive takes some steps in the right direction but is too light on details.
"AI policy isn't an autonomous vehicle," Crawford said. "You basically need a detailed plan or it's going to run off the road."
Crawford said she welcomed the Trump administration's intention to accelerate research and regulate AI across different industrial sectors. But she said the administration also must ensure that AI's potential ethical challenges are taken seriously.
AI-based technologies such as facial recognition can be used to enhance government surveillance, while studies have found that computers are susceptible to the same racial and gender biases as the humans whose data they learn from.
Economists have also warned that AI advances could displace many U.S. workers in the coming years -- something that Trump's plan doesn't do enough to address, said Bradford Newman, an attorney who is pushing for a new regulatory body to govern AI issues.
"We can figure out how to regulate and account for the downside risks now, or we can wait until it's too late and it's purely reactive and people are out of work," Newman said.
--The Associated Press