White House Charts AI Future

On eve of Frontiers Conference, report looks at challenges, opportunities of artificial intelligence

The White House has issued a report on, and recommendations for, the development of artificial intelligence (AI).

"Intelligent computer systems have long been the subject of science fiction," the administration said in releasing the report, as well as a strategic plan for research and development. "Now, we are entering an era in which AI is having broad and deep impacts on our daily lives."

"Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence" was released a day before the president is scheduled to speak at the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh. The science and technology conference is cohosted by Carnegie Melon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Among the possible uses of AI are to help private and government broadband networks better react to, or anticipate cybersecurity threats, said the report, which was produced by the Executive Office of the President's National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).

An AI-driven Internet of Things also has implications for drones, self-driving cars and virtually everything in between. To that end, "given the potential impacts of AI, society would benefit from accurate and timely methods for monitoring and forecasting AI developments," said the White House.

AI also can help TVs or computers identify what viewers are watching and help target ads to them, a point the White House even made in the introduction to the report, citing Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who said, "Machine learning [a subfield of AI] is a core, transformative way by which we’re rethinking how we’re doing everything."

"We are thoughtfully applying it across all our products, be it search, ads, YouTube or Play," Pichai added. "And we’re in early days, but you will see us — in a systematic way — apply machine learning in all these areas.”

The AI report, which included public input, also talks about boosting diversity in the AI workforce and the important role of schools and universities.

The report cites as one of the AI milestones "IBM’s question-answering computer Watson’s victory in the TV game show Jeopardy!"

The White House also recomended an additional report, "a study on automation and the economy, resulting in a follow-on public report that will be released by the end of this year," blogged Ed Felten, deputy chief technology officer, and Terah Lyons, policy advisor to the U.S. chief technology officer.

In 2015, the U.S. government’s investment in unclassified AI-related R&D was about $1.1 billion, and it's expected to grow to $1.2 billion this year, according to the report, which does not provide figures for classified applications. The administration said that while the private sector will drive progress in AI, a strong case can be made for doubling or tripling that government investment, or at least targeting increases at that level in areas of high economic or strategic value. 

The main R&D priorities, according to the strategic plan, are: "Make Long-Term Investments in AI Research; Develop Effective Methods for Human-AI Collaboration; Understand and Address the Ethical, Legal, and Societal Implications of AI Ensure the Safety and Security of AI Systems; Develop Shared Public Datasets and Environments for AI Training and Testing; Measure and Evaluate AI Technologies through Standards and Benchmarks; and Better Understand the National AI R&D Workforce Needs."