Representatives from 38 major US companies, including Microsoft, Intel, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Ford, will gather at the White House today for an AI summit aimed at boosting the country’s efforts in robotics, artificial intelligence, and related technologies.
According to The Washington Post, The Artificial Intelligence for American Industry event will see government officials, academics, and developers come together to discuss how AI can advance infrastructure and industry, including manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, and transportation, and how government policy can help facilitate this.
The event comes as the US announces 10 pilot schemes across the country to assess drones’ and unmanned aerial systems’ potential to help communities and businesses, and as a number of automotive and technology companies have announced collaborations on mobility and blockchain schemes, as well as on AI and connected transport.
This week’s AI summit will also explore the need for funding in new technologies such as machine learning, and the challenge of balancing the benefits of automation with the employment rights of US citizens.
A recent White House report on R&D highlights the government’s growing awareness of the importance of AI:
The development of artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing at a rapid pace, and the 2019 budget invests in fundamental AI research and computing infrastructure to maintain US leadership in this field. AI holds the potential to transform the lives of Americans through improved technology integration in the workplace and enhanced standards of living at home.
On a broad level, the budget funds AI research at the National Science Foundation and applied R&D in the Department of Transportation to develop autonomous systems.
It also provides $811 million to the Department of Energy’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research Program to support its research and supercomputing infrastructure. These supercomputers, in partnership with industry and academia, are crucial to the advancement of AI technologies such as machine learning, which require significant computing power at scale.
Elsewhere, in healthcare, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are turning to high-performance computing to analyse huge data sets to advance cancer research, while the Department of Defense is working on AI algorithms that can process large volumes of data to deliver decision-quality insights.
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The Trump administration faces challenges of its own, the biggest of which is its combative approach to new technologies and its support for ageing industries, such as fossil fuels, in preference to a more forward-looking agenda. The trade war with China is another factor, as it has direct impacts on the US technology sector.
As a result, it needs to prove to the tech industry heavyweights gathered at the White House that it is serious about AI. The Obama administration published two comprehensive reports on AI: Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy. These were adamant about the need for the US to ready itself for the growing economic impact of AI.
Since then, the Republican administration has been ambivalent in its response to AI’s role across industries – conceivably because Obama was outspoken in his support, given Trump’s record to date of dismantling all of his predecessor’s policies. For example, treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin was roundly condemned in March 2017 for his dismissal of automation.
While within the US, the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Oracle, and Amazon can shoulder the R&D weight, the onus rests on government policymakers to update and adapt policies to respond to the economic effects of AI. Despite Mnuchin’s flippancy, automation is predicted to replace nine percent of US jobs in 2018.
There’s also a risk that, by not offering clearer central support, the US will miss out on the productivity growth and global influence opportunities that come to nations leading the way in AI policy. So today’s event presents the president with an opportunity to clarify national policy and lead from the front.
As we recently reported, China is already on course to dominate the industrial robotics market, and has stated its ambition to lead the world in AI as well – an aim boosted, in simple technology terms, by national surveillance programmes and little in the way of data privacy protections for its citizens.
Meanwhile, the FCC’s ill-advised repeal of net neutrality rules in the US will have left a bitter taste in the mouths of many attending the AI for American Industry summit, while others will see it as an opportunity to push schemes that narrow access to their own commercial advantage. However, all will be hopeful that the Trump administration will announce a range of measures to support AI.
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