White House Wants to Discuss the Pros and Cons of Artificial Intelligence

May 3, 2016, 11:17 PM UTC
File general view of the White House in Washington
A general view of the White House in Washington in this September 30, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/Files - RTSCJU8
Photography by © Yuri Gripas — REUTERS

Nothing says that a topic has arrived more than a series of White House-sanctioned workshops about that topic. Well, that’s what’s happened with artificial intelligence.

The White House Office of Science and Technology on Tuesday announced four public workshops to discuss the fast growing artificial intelligence field, or AI, in which computers learn to handle tasks from writing news stories to performing surgery.

In the process, the computers become more autonomous and less dependent on human handlers. This can be huge benefit to society or an open invitation to technology taking over the world, depending on who’s doing the talking.

As pointed out in the White House post, President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative and Cancer Moonshot will both “rely on AI to find patterns in medical data and, ultimately, to help doctors diagnose diseases and suggest treatments to improve patient care and health outcomes.”

The goal of the workshops is to promote discussion about the pros and cons of artificial intelligence. AI opportunities include smarter machines that can perform complex tasks and operate in hostile environments like noisy and dirty factory floors, mines, waste sites, that aren’t healthy for people.

The challenge is that as machines get more capable they’ll displace more human workers and could conceivably cause harm, if they’re used in the battlefield for as autonomous weapons, for example.

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The four workshops, announced in a blog post by deputy U.S. chief technology officer Ed Felten will take place over the next few months.

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The series kicks off May 24 with a session on the legal implications of AI in Seattle. That will be followed by a workshop on AI for social good in Washington D.C; one on safety and control for AI in Pittsburgh.; and another about the near-term social and economic implication of AI in New York City.

Scheduled speakers include Kate Crawford, principal researcher with Microsoft (MSFT)Research; Meredith Whittaker, founder of Google (GOOG) Open Research; as well as researchers from University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon, New York University, Johns Hopkins, the University of Southern California, and University of Washington.

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Companies including Microsoft, Google, IBM (IBM), are all acquiring or developing their own AI technologies in hopes of catching this rising wave which is probably why academics want to make sure all these ethical,legal and technical aspects are well considered.