Renewed calls for increasing AI research and development funds

If you think the United States should lead the world in artificial intelligence then the country should have a national strategy for AI.

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If you think the United States should lead the world in artificial intelligence then the country should have a national strategy for AI. That’s the thinking behind a series of white papers coming from the Bipartisan Policy Center, and to members of Congress. The first white paper is out and it deals with AI in the workplace. Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd had more details on Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Congressman Hurd, good to have you on.

Will Hurd: Hey, Tom, it’s great to be on. Thanks for having me.

Tom Temin: Tell us about the work you’re doing in the Bipartisan Policy Center with respect to AI. Give us the background, here, for these white papers.

Will Hurd: Sure, so first of all, we are in a technology arms race with China – period, full stop – and we have to be prepared. And when I first came into Congress, you know my degrees in computer science, I was an undercover officer in the CIA. And then I helped build a cybersecurity company. And so those experiences have kind of formed my worldview on America’s role in advanced technology. And when I came to Congress, I was the chairman of a subcommittee on information technology. And my partner was Robin Kelly, a Democrat from Illinois. And as we were doing hearings on IT procurement and the use of drones in the commercial space we were talking about, we should be doing something on artificial intelligence. I also served as a chairman of a cybersecurity forum at the Aspen Institute. And this is leaders from all over the country, all different industries, talking about how AI and the role AI playing in cybersecurity in the future. So, Robin and I held the first hearing on artificial intelligence in Congress, we did a series and the conclusion of those conversations was that 28, at the time, other countries had national strategies on artificial intelligence; the United States needed one as well. And so there have been steps under the Obama administration, under the Trump administration to strengthen and to ensure we’re using AI as a tool in our work, but Congress as a co-equal branch of government has a role. So this was the thinking behind why we decided to do this. And so we were working with the Bipartisan Policy Center to convene a number of folks in the privacy world in the technology world to kind of bring together some of these initiatives and make sure Congress is playing its role, whether it’s in the appropriations piece, and also ensuring that the federal government is incorporating AI into its operation. So we’re focusing on workforce, we’re focusing on using AI in national security, we’re focusing on research, and we’re also gonna be focusing on the ethics around the use of AI. So these are the four areas and white papers are gonna be coming out on each one of those. And the end goal is we’re going to have a resolution that we want to try to pass through Congress, and then individual pieces of legislation, based on the 50 or so recommendations that we’re making from this report.

Tom Temin: And in the first white paper which is AI in the workforce, I guess a lot of people worry that AI will replace the workforce. But that’s not what you’re really talking about, though, is it?

Will Hurd: No and the disruption, that AI is going to play is real. And it’s going to happen and it’s coming. And we have to be prepared for it. We need to be taking advantage of technology before it takes advantage of us. Folks that follow artificial intelligence, we always talk about drivers, right, and driverless cars. The title “driver” it’s like there’s more people that are drivers than any other job in the world. And when you have autonomous vehicles, you don’t need a driver, but you are going to need people to help take care of the car and make sure if you get from point A to point B, something’s going to have to be done. So part of our initiative is to say, okay, how do we make sure that the current workforce is prepared for new collar jobs, right, for these jobs that may not exist right now? And they’re going to need some kind of transition. And then are we preparing our kids for jobs that don’t exist today? And so we have to focus on both of those pipelines because every industry is going to be impacted by artificial intelligence. And some people view artificial intelligence as a destination. And I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. AI is a tool that’s going to help us make better decisions, to use better data and to make decisions quicker. And so it’s not necessarily to replace and some positions are going to go away. But how do we prepare for that, and we have time. And so that’s why we want to make sure that we’re prepared for this disruption that’s going to happen in the American workforce.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Congressman Will Hurd who represents the – Texas’ 23rd District. And what should the federal government’s role be, if any, in all of this because most of the development is happening in the private sector?

Will Hurd: Correct, but the federal government should be a user of these tools. We should be looking at positions within the federal government that may have a role or have something to do with artificial intelligence and making sure the requirements are correct. In some of these categories, you don’t need a Ph.D. in data analytics in order to provide some value in the federal government. So looking at those positions and making sure we’re having the right requirements, so that we can start having the AI workforce of the future. We can be providing suggestions when it comes to curriculum. Look, I’m of the opinion that coding has to be introduced at a minimum in middle school. I even think there’s some schools around the country that are introducing in elementary school. How do we help accelerate that when it comes to workforce development? So those are some of the ways that we can try to address this AI workforce talent pipeline.

Tom Temin: And talk more about the ethical implications of AI. And I guess that that gets down to a fairly basic level of just algorithms that don’t produce outcomes that would be, I guess acceptable if the work was done by the human mind.

Will Hurd: So when we when we think about ethics, we got to start – I started this conversation with we’re in a technology arms race with China. The government of China does not care about civil liberties, they do not care about privacy. And AI is based on on three things: Data information, its high-powered compute capacity, and then its algorithms, right? The formulas that take all that data and uses that high-power compute to produce some type of resource. But this is all driven by data. And so if you have a country that doesn’t care about civil liberties, they’re going to use the data however they can. They’re going to always have more data. So do you want future technology being decided by a country that doesn’t care about civil liberties? Or do you want liberal democratic values to impact the development of this tool, right? So that starts with the ethics then you got ask the question: There are already existing laws that says you can’t discriminate, right? A lot of times when technology is used, it ends up discriminating different groups. We already have those rules. If you’re going to issue a home loan, you can’t discriminate based on the color of somebody’s skin. So the algorithm can’t do that either, right? We don’t need to recreate new rules, we just need to make sure that they’re enforced. So whether the algorithm produces that decision or a person, then they should be held to the same standards, which means you got to have some ability to determine how that algorithm ultimately made that decision. So these are some of the questions that we’re grappling with. We don’t need a department of artificial intelligence. We need every current oversight agency thinking about this. In Congress, the various committees at the beginning of a term, you have oversight plans, and so are the congressional committees looking at all the regulatory bodies and making sure They have the capacity to evaluate algorithms and the use of AI? And then you get to, you know, when in the process should a person be making the decision. And this conversation generally ends with should a robot be able to on a battlefield issue, you know, as with where this conversation goes, should a robot be able to kill a robot? And can a robot be able to kill a person? And these are some of the conversations that needs to be addressed when you talk about the ethical use and how you do that and how you enforce the current regulatory environment is a way that Congress has a role in part of developing this national AI strategy.

Tom Temin: And looking at it from another angle, it looks as if you see artificial intelligence as an industry, perhaps being able to pull in people that have been traditionally underrepresented. I’m looking at recommendation number three: Federal agencies should review their current policies for recruiting and retaining talent from underrepresented communities and marginalized groups, to determine whether these policies need specific modifications for technology workers. So it sounds like this is an avenue for the workforce to be developed in ways where it’s not reaching at this point.

Will Hurd: One-hundred percent, and it’s every industry. Artificial intelligence is gonna allow us to grow more crops, with less water with less land and with less energy. It’s gonna allow us to catch disease sooner, it’s going to allow us to do testing on cures in a much more rapid way. So every industry is going to be touched by this tool, and we have to be ready and then we have to make sure that the people involved in developing this tool and using this tool reflects the entire country. The reason the workforce paper was first is because developing that talent pipeline is critical to making sure that AI is used and developed in the right way. And oftentimes when I talk to people about artificial intelligence if they’re older than I am, and I say AI the first time they think of HAL 9000 – that’s that computer with voice from the movie “[2001: A Space Odyssey],” right? Or if they’re younger than me, they may think of Ava from “Ex Machina” or the Roomba – that’s that vacuum cleaner that kind of moves around and cleans the floors, by themselves. But we should be thinking of, you know, making hospitals better and making agriculture better, identifying waste, fraud and abuse within large bureaucratic organizations. These are all the things that AI is going to be able to help us do.

Tom Temin: Yeah, I’m so old, I think of the maid from “The Jetsons,” so that’ll set your idea –

Will Hurd: Rosie? Was that her name? Rosie?

Tom Temin: Yes, right, Rosie. Yeah and she floated along with no feet, I think above the floor or whatever. But you said that you and Congressman Kelly – Congresswoman Kelly would be introducing a resolution. You’re leaving Congress at the end of this term. Will you continue on this effort afterwards in some capacity?

Will Hurd: Absolutely. My goal is to stay involved at that intersection of national security, technology and public policy.

Tom Temin: Republican Congressman Will Hurd represents Texas’ 23rd district. Thanks so much for joining me.

Will Hurd: It’s always a pleasure. I appreciate your attention to such an important issue.

Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview along with a link to the white paper at Hear the Federal Drive on demand and on your device. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts or Podcastone.

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