As a contribution toward preparing the United States for a future in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a growing role, we survey the current state of AI, its existing and potential applications, and the questions that are raised for society and public policy by progress in AI. We also make recommendations for specific further actions by Federal agencies and other actors.
A companion document called the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan lays out a strategic plan for Federally-funded research and development in AI.
Applications of AI for Public Good
One area of great optimism about AI and machine learning is their potential to improve people’s lives by helping to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges and inefficiencies. Many have compared the promise of AI to the transformative impacts of advancements in mobile computing. Public- and private- sector investments in basic and applied R and D on AI have already begun reaping major benefits to the public in fields as diverse as health care, transportation, the environment, criminal justice, and economic inclusion. The effectiveness of government itself is being increased as agencies build their capacity to use AI to carry out their missions more quickly, responsively, and efficiently.
AI and Regulation
AI has applications in many products, such as cars and aircraft, which are subject to regulation designed to protect the public from harm and ensure fairness in economic competition. How will the incorporation of AI into these products affect the relevant regulatory approaches? In general, the approach to regulation of AI-enabled products to protect public safety should be informed by assessment of the aspects of risk that the addition of AI may reduce alongside the aspects of risk that it may increase. If a risk falls within the bounds of an existing regulatory regime, moreover, the policy discussion should start by considering whether the existing regulations already adequately address the risk, or whether they need to be adapted to the addition of AI. Also, where regulatory responses to the addition of AI threaten to increase the cost of compliance, or slow the development or adoption of beneficial innovations, policymakers should consider how those responses could be adjusted to lower costs and barriers to innovation without adversely impacting safety or market fairness.
Currently relevant examples of the regulatory challenges that AI-enabled products present are found in the cases of automated vehicles (AVs, such as self-driving cars) and AI-equipped unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or “drones”). In the long run, AVs will likely save many lives by reducing driver error and increasing personal mobility, and UAS will offer many economic benefits. Yet public safety must be protected as these technologies are tested and begin to mature. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is using an approach to evolving the relevant regulations that is based on building expertise in the Department, creating safe spaces and test beds for experimentation, and working with industry and civil society to evolve performance-based regulations that will enable more uses as evidence of safe operation accumulates.
Research and Workforce
Government also has an important role to play in the advancement of AI through research and development and the growth of a skilled, diverse workforce. A separate strategic plan for Federally- funded AI research and development is being released in conjunction with this report. The plan discusses the role of Federal R and D, identifies areas of opportunity, and recommends ways to coordinate R&D to maximize benefit and build a highly-trained workforce.
Given the strategic importance of AI, moreover, it is appropriate for the Federal Government to monitor developments in the field worldwide in order to get early warning of important changes arising elsewhere in case these require changes in U.S. policy.
The rapid growth of AI has dramatically increased the need for people with relevant skills to support and advance the field. An AI-enabled world demands a data-literate citizenry that is able to read, use, interpret, and communicate about data, and participate in policy debates about matters affected by AI. AI knowledge and education are increasingly emphasized in Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education programs. AI education is also a component of Computer Science for All, the President’s initiative to empower all American students from kindergarten through high school to learn computer science and be equipped with the computational thinking skills they need in a technology- driven world.
Economic Impacts of AI
AI’s central economic effect in the short term will be the automation of tasks that could not be automated before. This will likely increase productivity and create wealth, but it may also affect particular types of jobs in different ways, reducing demand for certain skills that can be automated while increasing demand for other skills that are complementary to AI. Analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) suggests that the negative effect of automation will be greatest on lower-wage jobs, and that there is a risk that AI-driven automation will increase the wage gap between less-educated and more- educated workers, potentially increasing economic inequality. Public policy can address these risks, ensuring that workers are retrained and able to succeed in occupations that are complementary to, rather than competing with, automation. Public policy can also ensure that the economic benefits created by AI are shared broadly, and assure that AI responsibly ushers in a new age in the global economy.
Fairness, Safety, and Governance
As AI technologies move toward broader deployment, technical experts, policy analysts, and ethicists have raised concerns about unintended consequences of widespread adoption. Use of AI to make consequential decisions about people, often replacing decisions made by human-driven bureaucratic processes, leads to concerns about how to ensure justice, fairness, and accountability—the same concerns voiced previously in the Administration’s Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values report of 2014, as well as the Report to the President on Big Data and Privacy: A Technological Perspective published by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2014.2 Transparency concerns focus not only on the data and algorithms involved, but also on the potential to have some form of explanation for any AI-based determination. Yet AI experts have cautioned that there are inherent challenges in trying to understand and predict the behavior of advanced AI systems.
Use of AI to control physical-world equipment leads to concerns about safety, especially as systems are exposed to the full complexity of the human environment. A major challenge in AI safety is building systems that can safely transition from the “closed world” of the laboratory into the outside “open world” where unpredictable things can happen. Adapting gracefully to unforeseen situations is difficult yet necessary for safe operation. Experience in building other types of safety-critical systems and infrastructure, such as aircraft, power plants, bridges, and vehicles, has much to teach AI practitioners about verification and validation, how to build a safety case for a technology, how to manage risk, and how to communicate with stakeholders about risk.
At a technical level, the challenges of fairness and safety are related. In both cases, practitioners strive to avoid unintended behavior, and to generate the evidence needed to give stakeholders justified confidence that unintended failures are unlikely.
Ethical training for AI practitioners and students is a necessary part of the solution. Ideally, every student learning AI, computer science, or data science would be exposed to curriculum and discussion on related ethics and security topics. However, ethics alone is not sufficient. Ethics can help practitioners understand their responsibilities to all stakeholders, but ethical training should be augmented with technical tools and methods for putting good intentions into practice by doing the technical work needed to prevent unacceptable outcomes.
Global Considerations and Security
AI poses policy questions across a range of areas in international relations and security. AI has been a topic of interest in recent international discussions as countries, multilateral institutions, and other stakeholders have begun to access the benefits and challenges of AI. Dialogue and cooperation between these entities could help advance AI R and D and harness AI for good, while also addressing shared challenges.
Today’s AI has important applications in cybersecurity, and is expected to play an increasing role for both defensive and offensive cyber measures. Currently, designing and operating secure systems requires significant time and attention from experts. Automating this expert work partially or entirely may increase security across a much broader range of systems and applications at dramatically lower cost, and could increase the agility of the Nation’s cyber-defenses. Using AI may help maintain the rapid response required to detect and react to the landscape of evolving threats.
Challenging issues are raised by the potential use of AI in weapon systems. The United States has incorporated autonomy in certain weapon systems for decades, allowing for greater precision in the use of weapons and safer, more humane military operations. Nonetheless, moving away from direct human control of weapon systems involves some risks and can raise legal and ethical questions.
The key to incorporating autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems into American defense planning is to ensure that U.S. Government entities are always acting in accordance with international humanitarian law, taking appropriate steps to control proliferation, and working with partners and Allies to develop standards related to the development and use of such weapon systems. The United States has actively participated in ongoing international discussion on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, and anticipates continued robust international discussion of these potential weapon systems. Agencies across the U.S. Government are working to develop a single, government-wide policy, consistent with international humanitarian law, on autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons.
Preparing for the Future
AI holds the potential to be a major driver of economic growth and social progress, if industry, civil society, government, and the public work together to support development of the technology with thoughtful attention to its potential and to managing its risks. The U.S. Government has several roles to play. It can convene conversations about important issues and help to set the agenda for public debate. It can monitor the safety and fairness of applications as they develop, and adapt regulatory frameworks to encourage innovation while protecting the public. It can provide public policy tools to ensure that disruption in the means and methods of work enabled by AI increases productivity while avoiding negative economic consequences for certain sectors of the workforce. It can support basic research and the application of AI to public good. It can support development of a skilled, diverse workforce. And government can use AI itself to serve the public faster, more effectively, and at lower cost. Many areas of public policy, from education and the economic safety net, to defense, environmental preservation, and criminal justice, will see new opportunities and new challenges driven by the continued progress of AI. The U.S. Government must continue to build its capacity to understand and adapt to these changes.
As the technology of AI continues to develop, practitioners must ensure that AI-enabled systems are governable; that they are open, transparent, and understandable; that they can work effectively with people; and that their operation will remain consistent with human values and aspirations. Researchers and practitioners have increased their attention to these challenges, and should continue to focus on them. Developing and studying machine intelligence can help us better understand and appreciate our human intelligence. Used thoughtfully, AI can augment our intelligence, helping us chart a better and wiser path forward.The recommendations are
Recommendation 1: Private and public institutions are encouraged to examine whether and how they can responsibly leverage AI and machine learning in ways that will benefit society. Social justice and public policy institutions that do not typically engage with advanced technologies and data science in their work should consider partnerships with AI researchers and practitioners that can help apply AI tactics to the broad social problems these institutions already address in other ways.
Recommendation 2: Federal agencies should prioritize open training data and open data standards in AI. The government should emphasize the release of datasets that enable the use of AI to address social challenges. Potential steps may include developing an “Open Data for AI” initiative with the objective of releasing a significant number of government data sets to accelerate AI research and galvanize the use of open data standards and best practices across government, academia, and the private sector.
Recommendation 3: The Federal Government should explore ways to improve the capacity of key agencies to apply AI to their missions. For example, Federal agencies should explore the potential to create DARPA-like organizations to support high-risk, high-reward AI research and its application, much as the Department of Education has done through its proposal to create an “ARPA-ED,” to support R and D to determine whether AI and other technologies could significantly improve student learning outcomes.
Recommendation 4: The NSTC MLAI subcommittee should develop a community of practice for AI practitioners across government. Agencies should work together to develop and share standards and best practices around the use of AI in government operations. Agencies should ensure that Federal employee training programs include relevant AI opportunities.
Recommendation 5: Agencies should draw on appropriate technical expertise at the senior level when setting regulatory policy for AI-enabled products. Effective regulation of AI-enabled products requires collaboration between agency leadership, staff knowledgeable about the existing regulatory framework and regulatory practices generally, and technical experts with knowledge of AI. Agency leadership should take steps to recruit the necessary technical talent, or identify it in existing agency staff, and should ensure that there are sufficient technical “seats at the table” in regulatory policy discussions.
Recommendation 6: Agencies should use the full range of personnel assignment and exchange models (e.g. hiring authorities) to foster a Federal workforce with more diverse perspectives on the current state of technology.
Recommendation 7: The Department of Transportation should work with industry and researchers on ways to increase sharing of data for safety, research, and other purposes. The future roles of AI in surface and air transportation are undeniable. Accordingly, Federal actors should focus in the near-term on developing increasingly rich sets of data, consistent with consumer privacy, that can better inform policy-making as these technologies mature.
Recommendation 8: The U.S. Government should invest in developing and implementing an advanced and automated air traffic management system that is highly scalable, and can fully accommodate autonomous and piloted aircraft alike.
Recommendation 9: The Department of Transportation should continue to develop an evolving framework for regulation to enable the safe integration of fully automated vehicles and UAS, including novel vehicle designs, into the transportation system.
Recommendation 10: The NSTC Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence should monitor developments in AI, and report regularly to senior Administration leadership about the status of AI, especially with regard to milestones. The Subcommittee should update the list of milestones as knowledge advances and the consensus of experts changes over time. The Subcommittee should consider reporting to the public on AI developments, when appropriate.
Recommendation 11: The Government should monitor the state of AI in other countries, especially with respect to milestones.
Recommendation 12: Industry should work with government to keep government updated on the general progress of AI in industry, including the likelihood of milestones being reached soon.
Recommendation 13: The Federal government should prioritize basic and long-term AI research. The Nation as a whole would benefit from a steady increase in Federal and private-sector AI R and D, with a particular emphasis on basic research and long-term, high-risk research initiatives. Because basic and long-term research especially are areas where the private sector is not likely to invest, Federal investments will be important for R and D in these areas.
Recommendation 14: The NSTC Subcommittees on MLAI and NITRD, in conjunction with the NSTC Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Education (CoSTEM),, should initiate a study on the AI workforce pipeline in order to develop actions that ensure an appropriate increase in the size, quality, and diversity of the workforce, including AI researchers, specialists, and users.
Recommendation 15: The Executive Office of the President should publish a follow-on report by the end of this year, to further investigate the effects of AI and automation on the U.S. job market, and outline recommended policy responses.
Recommendation 16: Federal agencies that use AI-based systems to make or provide decision support for consequential decisions about individuals should take extra care to ensure the efficacy and fairness of those systems, based on evidence-based verification and validation.
Recommendation 17: Federal agencies that make grants to state and local governments in support of the use of AI-based systems to make consequential decisions about individuals should review the terms of grants to ensure that AI-based products or services purchased with Federal grant funds produce results in a sufficiently transparent fashion and are supported by evidence of efficacy and fairness.
Recommendation 18: Schools and universities should include ethics, and related topics in security, privacy, and safety, as an integral part of curricula on AI, machine learning, computer science, and data science.
Recommendation 19: AI professionals, safety professionals, and their professional societies should work together to continue progress toward a mature field of AI safety engineering.
Recommendation 20: The U.S. Government should develop a government-wide strategy on international engagement related to AI, and develop a list of AI topical areas that need international engagement and monitoring.
Recommendation 21: The U.S. Government should deepen its engagement with key international stakeholders, including foreign governments, international organizations, industry, academia, and others, to exchange information and facilitate collaboration on AI R and D.
Recommendation 22: Agencies’ plans and strategies should account for the influence of AI on cybersecurity, and of cybersecurity on AI. Agencies involved in AI issues should engage their U.S. Government and private-sector cybersecurity colleagues for input on how to ensure that AI systems and ecosystems are secure and resilient to intelligent adversaries. Agencies involved in cybersecurity issues should engage their U.S. Government and private sector AI colleagues for innovative ways to apply AI for effective and efficient cybersecurity.
Recommendation 23: The U.S. Government should complete the development of a single, government- wide policy, consistent with international humanitarian law, on autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons.