Four Recommendations to Protect U.S. Citizens as AI Continues to Expand

IEEE-USA committee’s position statement addresses R&D, workforce development, and more

11 October 2017

Artificial intelligence applications are increasingly and significantly impacting practically every aspect of American society, including vital public services such as health care and national security, as well as commerce. However, recent AI advancements have raised new regulatory concerns. The U.S. Congress and federal regulators, as well as the science and tech community, have expressed concerns about uncontrolled and unregulated development of AI. Contributing to the unease are ill-informed ideas and comments about AI taking over the world and violating people’s privacy, plus the advent of killer robots. The resulting panic could lead to bad policymaking that is more in line with Hollywood rhetoric than AI’s real capabilities.

To garner public acceptance and confidence in AI technologies’ use and safety, it is important that public policies and government regulations promote a “reality.” Insufficient regulatory oversight or failure to legislatively address the potential societal and cultural impact of AI could result in high-profile controversies related to critical technological failures—or even loss of life. Such events could potentially cause policymaking that unnecessarily stifles entire industries, or supports regulations that do not effectively protect the public.

IEEE-USA’s government relations staff in Washington, D.C., and concerned IEEE members are working on behalf of all members to ensure sound federal laws and regulations.

Recognizing the growing need to provide legislators and regulators with the necessary technical expertise to expand technologically sound AI policies, IEEE-USA last year established the Artificial Intelligence Committee. It is composed of IEEE members with AI expertise and an understanding of the policymaking process. The committee published its Artificial Intelligence Research, Development, and Regulation” position statement in December, and the statement was adopted in February by the IEEE-USA board. The statement lays out a framework to ensure that the appropriate safeguards and protections are in place as the United States develops and uses this fast-moving technology. The position statement calls for:

  • Research and development. Increasing federal investment in AI R&D is essential to stimulating the economy, maintaining U.S. competitiveness, creating high-value jobs, and improving government services.
  • Workforce development. Addressing workforce needs ensures that the emerging AI industry will create new and different jobs and provides access to workers with the relevant skills necessary to create and maintain AI-related technologies.
  • Safety, risk assessment, laws, and regulations. It is important to make sure that federal agencies develop guidance to promote responsible adoption of AI technologies that will control critical infrastructures such as the financial sector and the electric grid. A clear understanding of the safety challenges and risks, and the extent of potential threats and vulnerabilities, is critical to formulating public policies and regulations that the public and industry will accept.
  • Intellectual property rights. Updating copyright and patent laws to account for the unique characteristics of AI is vital. The technology has the capability to both infringe on intellectual property rights and to generate content in such a way that additional intellectual property rights are necessary.

The U.S. House of Representatives convened the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus this year. Its goal is to promote a greater understanding of AI’s potential and to foster a legislative agenda that addresses the potential of AI R&D and related regulatory concerns. IEEE-USA is co-sponsoring one of the first briefings for the caucus, on 7 November. Speakers from Carnegie Mellon University and the Software and Information Industry Association will join IEEE-USA to discuss the ethics and privacy issues of AI.

If you are an IEEE member and would like to participate in IEEE-USA’s public policy activities, contact me.

Wissolik is program manager of government relations for IEEE-USA, in Washington, D.C.

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