President Obama believes that a “light touch” of federal supervision will help AI blossom and, more importantly, integrate seamlessly into our economy.
Last month, President Barack Obama sat down with WIRED’s Editor-in-Chief and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito to discuss the government’s role in the ongoing artificial intelligence revolution. While President Obama is sure that Washington has a critical part to play — particularly in regulating AI to protect the American labor force — it is equally important that its involvement doesn’t stymie the development and implementation of the technology, he says.
A Light Touch for AI
When it comes to regulating AI, the president believes that government involvement should be limited, especially during its earlier stages of research and development. “The way I’ve been thinking about the regulatory structure as AI emerges is that, early in a technology, a thousand flowers should bloom,” Obama tells WIRED. “The government should add a relatively light touch, investing heavily in research and making sure there’s a conversation between basic research and applied research.”
In other words, the government needs to help facilitate the evolution of artificial intelligence as it grows from a novelty into a more familiar technology. But before it can be a familiar part of our everyday lives, the technology needs to reach a certain level of maturation — the president thinks that will require more research outside the private endeavors of technology giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.
“Part of the problem that we’ve seen is that our general commitment as a society to basic research has diminished. Our confidence in collective action has been chipped away,” he says.
In an effort to restore our confidence and develop a comprehensive, collaborative environment, Obama has proposed a “robust partnership” between public, private, and governmental players — something akin to the “moonshot” research efforts of the U.S. space program 50 years ago.
Government Regulation: Finding a Balance
That program had a federal budget of half a percent of the gross domestic product — equivalent to $80 billion today. While the president is not proposing such a massive allotment of funds for AI, he does believe that appropriately developing the technology will require some government funding.
And once AI becomes more ubiquitous in our society, lawmakers will need to start taking a more active role, Obama says. “As technologies emerge and mature, then figuring out how they get incorporated into existing regulatory structures becomes a tougher problem, and the government needs to be involved a little bit more.”
But that involvement should not be overbearing, he stresses. Federal regulators won’t necessarily “force the new technology into the square peg that exists,” but will instead “make sure the regulations reflect a broad base set of values.”
“If properly harnessed, [AI] can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity,” he continues. “But it also has some downsides that we’re gonna have to figure out in terms of not eliminating jobs. It could increase inequality. It could suppress wages.”
Enhancing, Not Eliminating AI
While both the president’s and the public’s concerns over AI’s impact on the economy — and more specifically, its impacts on employment — are certainly valid, AI will much more likely enhance human work, rather than eliminate it. In fact, from healthcare to customer service, we are already experiencing the positive effects of its implementation today.
Adgorithms, creators of Albert™, the first AI Marketing platform, is already using artificial intelligence to autonomously monitor and test ad campaigns across multiple channels. The automation of these traditionally labor-intensive and information-saturated processes frees up marketers to focus on the creative side of their work, making for a happier, more efficient workforce.