May 8, 2018 - Technology

What to expect at the White House's big AI meeting

A circuit diagram in the shape of a human brain

Image: Dong Wenjie/Getty Images

Trump administration officials and Silicon Valley execs will discuss some of the hottest questions about artificial intelligence later this week, including whether the technology can evolve in an ethical way without new government regulations.

Why it matters: The all-day Thursday meeting is the most public effort by the Trump White House so far to wrap its head around AI, although staffers have been talking with people outside the White House about the topic for months.

The potential for regulation of the universe of AI technologies looms over the meeting. A draft agenda distributed by the White House says that one major topic of discussion will be removing “barriers to AI innovation in the United States.”

  • “When [the Office of Science and Technology Policy] set the session up one of the first things they said to me on the phone was, ‘We believe in an approach that lets industry innovate and does not have government regulate in a precautionary way,’” said top IBM lobbyist Chris Padilla, noting he was paraphrasing the White House’s comments.

What we’re hearing: Expect several companies to raise the importance of developing AI in an ethical and responsible way.

  • Facebook, facing a confidence crisis after the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, will raise the issue of ethically approaching the questions posed by AI. Google has similarly presented itself as a thoughtful player in the artificial intelligence landscape.
  • Several older technology companies — like IBM and Microsoft — are trying to portray themselves as more responsible than their younger counterparts when it comes to handling the data that's used to train AI programs. Intel, for example, put out principles for AI last year that include “rethink privacy” and “create new human employment opportunities and protect people’s’ welfare.” Its CEO, Brian Krzanich, is expected to attend the White House meeting.
  • With attendees discussing developing “the American workforce to take advantage of the benefits of AI,” expect talk of the ways that AI could automate people out of a job.

Government attendees span the federal government, representing executive agencies, the National Science Foundation and the intelligence community. Sessions later in the day will be devoted to how artificial intelligence is affecting industries like transportation, agriculture and healthcare.

The big picture: The United States is racing against, among others, China and countries in the European Union to dominate what's expected to be a gigantic new market. That rivalry is likely to come up in the meeting, too. Dean Garfield, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council, said that it was unknown whether the White House has “the internal capacity” to keep the U.S. competitive with other countries on AI, because “we know for a fact that there is that human power focused on AI in Europe, China and other parts of the world.”

The bottom line: Many of the administration's goals — like limiting regulation — seem in line with what much of the industry wants.

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