The Government Isn’t Doing Enough to Solve Big Problems with AI

Mike Orcutt at MIT Technology Review: “The government should play a bigger role in developing new tools based on artificial intelligence, or we could miss out on revolutionary applications because they don’t have obvious commercial upside.

That was the message from prominent AI technologists and researchers at a Senate committee hearing last week. They agreed that AI is in a crucial developmental moment, and that government has a unique opportunity to shape its future. They also said that the government is in a better position than technology companies to invest in AI applications aimed at broad societal problems.

Today just a few companies, led by Google and Facebook, account for the lion’s share of AI R&D in the U.S. But Eric Horvitz, technical fellow and managing director of Microsoft Research, told the committee members that there are important areas that are rich and ripe for AI innovation, such as homelessness and addiction, where the industry isn’t making big investments. The government could help support those pursuits, Horvitz said.

For a more specific example, take the plight of a veteran seeking information online about medical options, says Andrew Moore, dean of the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. If an application that could respond to freeform questions, search multiple government data sets at once, and provide helpful information about a veteran’s health care options were commercially attractive, it might be available already, he says.

There is a “real hunger for basic research” says Greg Brockman, cofounder and chief technology officer of the nonprofit research company OpenAI, because technologists understand that they haven’t made the most important advances yet. If we continue to leave the bulk of it to industry, not only could we miss out on useful applications, but also on the chance to adequately explore urgent scientific questions about ethics, safety, and security while the technology is still young, says Brockman. Since the field of AI is growing “exponentially,” it’s important to study these things now, he says, and the government could make that a “top line thing that they are trying to get done.”….(More)”.