June 26, 2018 By psekerka
In response to the rapid rise of AI, U.S. policy makers are starting to examine both the positive and negative implications of these advancements. In May, President Trump hosted a number of stakeholders at the inaugural White House Summit on Artificial Intelligence, a clear sign of growing interest by the Administration. This follows earlier developments in Congress, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced AI legislation that would establish an advisory committee to address several key issues, including: adapting the workforce to the new technology, research and innovation, data privacy, and mitigating national security threats pose by AI.
Although an EY poll of 126 senior AI professionals in March 2018 suggested that the U.S. was leading in AI adoption (40%), with China close behind (32%), decision makers in Washington realize much more must be done to ensure the U.S. does not lose its competitive edge to other geographies such as China, Japan, and the European Union. Last year, China announced it would become a global leader in AI over the next decade forecasting the country’s AI industry to be worth $150 billion by 2030. Additionally, the E.U. has committed to investing at least $24 billion in AI through 2020 and supporting AI innovation through a recently published comprehensive policy.
Washington is sometimes reactive in shaping tech policy, but on AI, D.C. seems determined to stay ahead of the curve, preemptively addressing the issue and emphasizing the need for engagement from the industry community. The U.S. governments understand that it will need to work closely with the industry, providing tech companies an opportunity to engage on setting the technical and regulatory standards for the emerging technology. To support that, Michael Kratsios – deputy CTO at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the master mind behind the White House AI Summit – announced a new committee would be formed to oversee AI investments for federal agencies, increasing research on the technology and helping the government best utilize it – all with one goal: to ensure continued U.S. leadership in this field.
In his vision for AI in the U.S., Krastios alluded to the plethora of questions and concerns that shape AI narrative and that will need to be addressed – most notably the future of work. Although it readily admits that some form of employment displacement is inevitable, the Trump Administration is keen on to supporting continued AI research and employee training in sectors most impacted by the introduction of AI and automation. This is major a concern for all involved. For example, a Brookings survey from earlier this month found that 38% of Americans felt AI would lead to reduce jobs, while only 13% believed it would have no effect and another 12% thought it would create jobs.
However, AI integration in the economy is not all doom and gloom; tech companies have positive stories to highlight the importance of AI in the modern workforce. An increased reliance on AI provides other employment growth opportunities in the development and deployment of the new technologies as well as potential labor demand increases in infrastructure and renewable energy. Companies should seize the spotlight to emphasize the benefits of AI and solidify their role in policy development.
For example: one German factory of Robert Bosch GmbH, offers exciting possibilities and guidance for the U.S. for the future of work with AI in the manufacturing space: a future that allows AI to take on excessively dangerous portions of production while employees remain in place at increased efficiency. For example, one position was previously responsible with taking hot auto parts from an oven and inspecting them for safety deficiencies, but the removal is now performed by a robotic arm, allowing the inspector to test 20% more parts than before the use of automation. Bosch has ramped up its use of robotic arms in assembly lines worldwide—up to 140 from 0 in 2011—but still sought out 20,000 new hires last year. One of the company’s chief engineers Stefan Assmann said “We can’t see robots having a negative impact on our workforce.” Bosch’s use of automation offers a positive example of how automation can improve workplaces while minimizing displacement.
All these developments come at a critical point in the U.S. political process. As the U.S. approaches midterm elections, Democrats are poised to make major gains in Congress. Democrats have typically been out front on tech policy, further cementing the need for tech companies to engage in the conversation on AI or risk getting left behind. After three informational hearings from the House Oversight Committee on AI policy in the first half of 2018, lawmakers have the issue on their radar and tech companies should expect additional hearings, federal initiatives on AI, or legislation after the new Congress takes office in January. As OpenAI Director, Jack Clark, suggested in an April hearing, AI technology is developing quickly and the government will have a key role to play in understanding the technology’s full capabilities and setting ethical and safety guidelines. This is the moment for AI companies to act – to put forward their ideas, experiences and best practices and help shape the thinking of both existing and incoming decision-makers. As AI is inherently linked with the future of the U.S. economy, there is no doubt that the discussion will further intensify as elections draw nearer.