White House Takes Deep Interest In AI

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The US government is seeking a more active role in shaping the direction of AI research and development.

Amid surging investment in artificial intelligence over the past few years and continuing concern about the implications of the technology, the White House announced on Tuesday that it intends to hold a series of workshops and form an interagency working group to examine the benefits and risks of AI.

In a blog post, Ed Felten, Deputy US Chief Technology Officer, framed the issue in a way that excludes speculative scenarios presenting AI as a threat to humanity, a concern raised by the likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.

While worries about runaway malevolent AI are often raised in public discussions of the technology, real AI research is more mundane, as in Google’s effort to improve the conversational capabilities of its software by feeding it romance novels.

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“Today’s AI is confined to narrow, specific tasks, and isn’t anything like the general, adaptable intelligence that humans exhibit,” said Felten. “Despite this, AI’s influence on the world is growing. The rate of progress we have seen will have broad implications for fields ranging from healthcare to image- and voice-recognition.”

Felten pointed to the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative and the Cancer Moonshot as endeavors that will depend on AI to identify patterns in medical data. Such projects promise to provide physicians with information that leads to better medical care and clinical outcomes. Felten¬†also highlighted AI’s potential to enhance education and transportation through the introduction of autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles.

At the same time, Felten acknowledged that AI brings risks and policy challenges. He pointed to AI’s potential to destroy jobs even as it opens new employment opportunities. He noted that this underscores the need for job training programs. He also highlighted the problem of inscrutable AI.

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