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Courtesy Salesforce

A team of researchers at Salesforce has been working to tap artificial intelligence to identify which tax rates would best achieve a balance of productivity and economic equality.

Why it matters: It's hard to do real-world experiments actually testing out changes in tax policy. Assuming the models work and can add complexity over time, AI could allow economists and regulators to test out lots of approaches to find one that best matches their desired outcome.

How it works:

  • Salesforce is using a technique known as reinforcement learning, the same basic approach that Google and others have used to teach computers to be masters at games like Chess and Go.
  • Salesforce's "AI Economist" uses a collection of virtual AI agents designed to simulate how real people might react to different taxes.
  • In the simulation, each AI agent earns money by collecting and trading resources and learns to maximize their happiness by adjusting their movement, trading and behavior.
  • At the same time the AI planner, or economist, learns to optimize taxes and subsidies to promote objectives like increased output and income equality.

"This is something you can't do in real world," Salesforce chief scientist Richard Socher said in an interview. "You cannot change your policies a million times.”

Background: Salesforce began the effort to show that the same technology that can teach computers to play games can also help address serious human challenges.

  • The project has been under way for about a year, but Salesforce decided to go public after it showed signs the approach is working.

Yes, but: The research is still in its early stages, operating against a limited number of variables.

  • "The situations aren’t realistic enough right now," Socher said. "The simulations over next couple years need to get a lot more granular, specific and large scale."

Go deeper

Aug 6, 2020 - Technology

U.S. should boost AI spending to compete with China, paper argues

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The U.S. must invest in research and development in artificial intelligence to stay ahead of China and other adversaries, argues a new paper penned by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) and two research groups, shared early with Axios.

Why it matters: Reps. Hurd and Kelly, along with the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Center for a New American Security, are pushing forward a bipartisan plan at a time of high tension with China. The U.S. and China compete on 5G development, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 5, 2020 - World

How new tech raises the risk of nuclear war

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some experts believe the risk of the use of a nuclear weapon is as high now as it has been since the Cuban missile crisis.

The big picture: Nuclear war remains the single greatest present threat to humanity — and one that is poised to grow as emerging technologies, like much faster missiles, cyber warfare and artificial intelligence, upset an already precarious nuclear balance.

5 hours ago - World

Defense Sec. Austin stresses U.S. commitment to Israel's security amid growing Iran tensions

Issei Kato/Reuters/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived for his first visit in Jerusalem amid nuclear talks in Vienna and growing tensions between Israel and Iran.

Why it matters: Austin met his counterpart Benny Gantz and will meet later with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss Iran and regional security issues.