White House lays foundation for AI-enabled future
- By Matt Leonard
- Oct 17, 2016
Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help “solve some of the world’s greatest challenges and inefficiencies,” and government’s role should be to facilitate research and ensure the technology is used safely, according to a new White House report, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.”
AI is already used at Walter Reed Medical Center to predict medical complications, in transportation systems to reduce wait time and in software that tracks animal migrations for the purpose of habitat preservation. The strategic plan that accompanies the report provides seven research and development strategies for the federal government and recommendations for an R&D framework and workforce.
The report was released on the same day that Wired published its October issue, guest-edited by President Barack Obama.
“The way I’ve been thinking about the regulatory structure as AI emerges is that, early in a technology, a thousand flowers should bloom,” Obama told Wired Editor Scott Dadich and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito. “And the government should add a relatively light touch, investing heavily in research and making sure there’s a conversation between basic research and applied research.”
“If properly harnessed, it can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity,” the president said. The report compares the growth of AI to the rise of robots in manufacturing, which it points out resulted in a .4 percent increase in GDP between 1993 and 2007 in 17 countries.
“But it also has some downsides that we’re gonna have to figure out in terms of not eliminating jobs. It could increase inequality,” Obama said. “It could suppress wages.”
To address these possible negative effects on the workforce, the White House will release another report on the specific economic implications by the end of the year.
Another issue that researchers must address is how to make AI fair. That means avoiding the ethically questionable uses of AI that include algorithms used to sentence criminals. “One way to describe this overall problem is: how can we give intelligent machines common sense?” the report asks. “Researchers are making slow progress on these sorts of problems.”
One of the more important parts of the research will be investing in long-term projects, according to the strategic plan. Payoffs like the World Wide Web and deep learning took decades to foster and understand, the report notes.
Long-term research, however, requires an investment in the people who will study this technology and bring it to its full potential.
“While no official AI workforce data currently exist, numerous recent reports from the commercial and academic sectors are indicating an increased shortage of available experts in AI,” the plan says.
Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.