By Alan Murray and David Meyer
May 10, 2018

Good morning.

A group of U.S. executives and academics with expertise in artificial intelligence has gathered in Washington this morning for a meeting organized by the White House. It is a little unclear how high level the sponsorship is—no sign the President is participating—or exactly what the goal is. But it’s a good thing, nonetheless. Much of the rest of the world—most notably China—has been focusing its attention on the profound changes coming to business and society from this new wave of technology, while Washington has been caught up fighting old battles and settling political scores.

Of course, the U.S. isn’t China, and things often work best here when the private sector takes the lead. But the needs and implications of the AI challenge can’t be met without government involvement.

The federal government not only has a role to play in funding research—as it did in the early days of the Internet—but also in encouraging the necessary changes in workforce training and education, creating clear data use policies, building a framework for the ethical issues that AI raises, and more.

This is the most important competitiveness issue of our times—far more important than bilateral trade deficits or steel and aluminum subsidies. And while the U.S. starts the race with a natural lead, China is catching up rapidly, thanks in no small part to the advantages that come from a focused and well-financed government undistracted by the messiness of democracy. It’s well past time for Washington to take notice.

The Wall Street Journal reports that about 40 firms are expected to be represented at the meeting, including tech giants Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet and Microsoft. Big non-tech companies participating include Bank of America, Boeing, GE, Ford, Goldman Sachs and Walmart. But for the most part, participants are not CEO level, with a few exceptions including Intel’s Brian Krzanich and CVS’s Larry Merlo.

News below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray
alan.murray@fortune.com

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