This article is published in the February 2017 issue.

White House Report on AI, Automation, and the Economy

downloadThe following is a blog post by Computing Community Consortium (CCC) AI Task Force Co-Chair Gregory D. Hager, Mandell Bellmore Professor of Computer Science at The Johns Hopkins University and CCC Director Ann Drobnis.

The past year has seen an incredible amount of ink spilled on a singular topic: what does the future of AI portend for the nation and the world? Will AI technologies enhance productivity and quality of life, or will it disrupt labor markets and accelerate growth in income disparity and wealth concentration? Will AI research be used for the common good, or will it be “bought up” by the private sector and exploited for commercial gain? Is this another AI research bubble, or are we truly on the verge of a paradigm shift that could change the nature of computing itself?

In previous posts, we’ve written about efforts by the research and science policy community to predict and shape the future of the AI research community through Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030, a report of the AI 100 study committee, recommendations from Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence, a report written by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, informed by a series of five public workshops and public responses to a Request for Information, as well as priorities for federally funded research in Artificial Intelligence as recommended by the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan, a report by the National Science and Technology Council Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Task Force on Artificial Intelligence.  

Yesterday, the White House released a new report, Artificial Intelligence, Automation and the Economy, which draws on many of these threads, but turns an important corner by articulating how actions by government could help to shape the future of the economy and the workforce to maximize the benefits of AI for all.

To quote from the executive summary:

Accelerating artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities will enable automation of some tasks that have long required human labor. These transformations will open up new opportunities for individuals, the economy, and society, but they have the potential to disrupt the current livelihoods of millions of Americans. Whether AI leads to unemployment and increases in inequality over the long-run depends not only on the technology itself but also on the institutions and policies that are in place. This report examines the expected impact of AI-driven automation on the economy, and describes broad strategies that could increase the benefits of AI and mitigate its costs.

The report goes on to articulate a set of three broad strategic policy directions designed to connect AI research and technology advances to broader societal and economic themes.

Those strategies are:

Strategy #1: Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits

Strategy #2: Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future

Strategy #3: Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth

Particularly relevant to our community, the first recommendation further articulates the importance of continuing to invest in AI research and development, development of  AI for cyberdefense and fraud detection, development of a larger, more diverse AI workforce, and support for market competition.  

While it is tempting for our community to just focus on this aspect of the report, we would advocate that this is a report we should read and consider in its entirety. It is incumbent upon us, as a community, to be part of the conversation around difficult questions of economics, ethics, and fairness as AI (and other) computing technologies are developed. Several recent symposia, including the Computing Research: Addressing National Priorities and Societal Needs Symposiumthe Artificial Intelligence for Social Good Symposium, and the De Lange Conference X: Humans, Machines, and the Future of Work, have begun to embrace these themes. Let’s not just wait for the future to happen, but rather let’s work together to shape it!