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Can humans and machines get along? (Credit: Imperial College London)

Experts on artificial intelligence are following up on the first White House workshop on artificial intelligence, presented last month in Seattle, with a session that addresses a central question about the technology: What good can it do for humanity?

Whenever folks talk about AI, the discussion usually turns to the dark side. Will machines surpass us, even rule over us? Researchers point out that although computers can be programmed to outdo unassisted humans in specialized tasks, such as playing the game of Go, artificial general intelligence still lags far behind human capabilities.

But if there’s even a minuscule risk that robot overlords will prevail, as claimed by luminaries such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, why take the chance? At Tuesday’s White House workshop, the second in a series of four, the spotlight focuses on why we should turn to the bright side of AI.

“AI has been successfully applied to societal challenge problems, and it has a great potential to provide tremendous social good in the future,” the Computing Community Consortium’s Helen Wright says in a blog post advancing the session.

The workshop will be streamed live from the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., starting at 5:30 a.m. PT (8:30 a.m. ET) Tuesday.

The discussions cover AI’s potential contributions to urban computing, environmental sustainability, health and public welfare.

One of the afternoon keynote talks will be delivered by Lynn Overmann, a White House senior adviser who specializes on data applications for criminal justice. The other keynoter has a local connection: He’s Eric Horvitz, technical fellow and managing director for Microsoft Research’s Redmond lab.

Microsoft was behind one of this year’s epic AI fails: a chatbot called Tay whose chat descended from millennial happy talk to hate-filled vitriol in less than 24 hours, thanks to a conversation-trolling campaign. Will Horvitz share lessons learned from the day of Tay during his keynote at 9:45 a.m. PT? Stay tuned.

Two more White House AI workshops are scheduled to follow today’s event. There’ll be a forum focusing on safety and control for artificial intelligence on June 28 in Pittsburgh, and a session on the near-term social and economic implications of AI technologies on July 7 in New York City.

The insights gained from the workshops will be factored into a White House report to be issued later this year, as well as potential government initiatives on AI. Here’s one recommendation to put on the list: Don’t build a Skynet AI system, unless you’re absolutely sure a time traveler can save the day.

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