Innovation, workers, and military advantage: what went on at the White House AI summit
The White House hosted 100 government officials, research academics, and business leaders to discuss artificial intelligence (AI) in the context of funding, regulation, workers and “military advantage” last week.
The Artificial Intelligence for American Industry summit, on May 10, was organised around two breakout sessions. Topics included support for research and development, and stronger public-private partnerships; education and training in STEM subjects to prepare the US workforce for industrial change; and lowering regulatory barriers to stimulate innovation.
Attendees were also split into industry-specific sessions to share ways industry leaders are using AI to grow their businesses, serve their customers, and empower workers. Industry sectors represented at the summit included food and agriculture, energy and manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, and transportation and logistics.
The developing role AI will play in the US government’s military strategy was also on the table.
Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant for technology policy, said: “Our free market approach to scientific discovery harnesses the combined strengths of government, industry, and academia, and positions us to leverage this technology.”
The Trump administration told the summit it had prioritised funding for AI research and computing infrastructure, machine learning, and autonomous systems. Federal investment in AI R&D has increased by 40 per cent since 2015, it said; its 2019 budget request is the first in history to designate AI as an R&D priority.
“Though the lion’s share of AI spending is in the private sector, a necessary part of our R&D ecosystem is government funding. In 2017, the Federal government spent billions on unclassified AI research and development and an- other billion on high-performance computing,” said Kratsios.
The White House said regulatory barriers are coming down, and innovation is quickening, citing specifically its new non-regulatory guidance on integrating driverless cars onto roadways, loosening of FAA regulations around commercial and public drone operations, and the recent approval of an AI-based device for medical diagnostics to detect diabetic retinopathy.
“Drones are delivering life-saving medicines in Africa. But because of overbearing regulations in America, what saves lives in Rwanda is banned in Raleigh. Erecting barriers to innovation does not stop the future; it makes the future move overseas. We are removing barriers to innovation wherever and whenever we can,” said Kratsios.
It also highlighted its steps to train workers, including a June order to establish a new apprenticeship scheme and cabinet-level task force, a September memorandum to prioritise STEM education, and new public-private grant funds of $500 million.
“AI holds the promise of great benefits for workers, with the potential to improve safety, increase productivity, and create new industries we can’t yet imagine. However, to a certain degree job displacement is inevitable. But we can’t sit idle, hoping eventually the market will sort it out. We must adapt,” said Kratsios.
Meanwhile, the National Security Strategy was the first in history to detail the importance of AI for military purposes, and the Department of Defense is investing broadly in military AI and machine learning applications, noted the White House.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), describing itself as “knees-deep in AI”, was one of around 40 tech companies in attendance. In a blog post, Bill Mannel, vice president and general manager of the company’s high-performance computing and AI unit, said the conversation often steered towards how AI may replace some types of workers in some industries.
“Most participants, myself included, believe the overall impact will be a boost in job growth, especially given so many of our job openings for individuals with AI and deep learning expertise are going unfilled,” said Mannel.
He added: “Based on what I saw and heard at the summit, I am increasingly hopeful that the US government – in recognizing and appreciating the importance of AI – will create a positive environment that fosters public-private partnerships that will spawn further AI innovation.
In general, there is a perception the pace for government-sponsored innovation in the field of AI has been set by other nations.