White House: We're Researching AI, But Don't Worry About Killer Robots


If the movies have taught us anything, artificial intelligence created by the government = bad.

The Obama administration is aware of those concerns, which is why a new report questions how government-backed AI could impact society and public policy. It calls for long-term investments in AI research, as well as investigations into the ethics and security implications of the technology.

"Advances in AI technology hold incredible potential to help America stay on the cutting edge of innovation," the White House said in a blog post.

At Walter Reed Medical Center, for example, the Department of Veteran Affairs is using AI to better predict medical complications and improve treatment. Smarter traffic management applications, meanwhile, are reducing wait times, energy use, and emissions across the country. And some researchers are using AI-based software to improve animal migration tracking.

Still, these systems risk overstepping the boundaries of government-regulated operations, particularly as it relates to security and defense. The administration's solution: more and better data.

"Federal actors should focus in the near-term on developing increasingly rich sets of data, consistent with consumer privacy, that can better inform policy-making as these technologies mature," the report says.

Key agencies, however, can't use and improve upon AI if they don't understand it. So the administration is calling for federal employee training. It also wants to implement an exchange model—the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Mobility Program—which would temporarily assign experts to governments, universities, research centers, and other organizations to fill in the gaps.

"For example, agency staff sent to colleges and universities as instructors can inspire students to consider federal employment," the paper says. "Likewise, programs that rotate employees through different jobs and sectors can help government employees gain knowledge and experience to inform regulation and policy, especially as it relates to emergent technologies like AI."

There is no pressing need to put these plans into action, though.

"It is very unlikely that machines will exhibit broadly applicable intelligence comparable to or exceeding that of humans in the next 20 years," the White House says, forecasting that "rapid progress in the field of specialized AI will continue, with machines reaching and exceeding human performance on an increasing number of tasks."

President Obama is scheduled to speak at this afternoon's Frontiers Conference, co-hosted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Watch the live stream online starting at 1:45 p.m. ET.

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