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AI summit at White House
Michael Kratsios, who’s currently in charge of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, addresses scores of executives, experts and officials at a White House summit focusing on artificial intelligence. (OSTP via Twitter)

The White House brought together scores of industry representatives for a summit focusing on artificial intelligence and its policy implications today — including representatives from Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook — and set up an advisory panel of government officials to assess AI’s impact.

The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence will advise the White House on AI research and development priorities, and will help forge partnerships involving government agencies, researchers and the private sector, according to Nextgov.

“In the summer of 1956, a dozen American scientists gathered on Dartmouth’s campus with the goal to ‘find out how to make machines solve the kinds of problems now reserved for humans.’ Now, nearly 62 years later, the age of artificial intelligence is here, and with it the hope of better lives for the American people,” Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy and acting head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in prepared remarks provided to Nextgov.

The committee is to be housed within the National Science and Technology Council and chaired by OSTP leadership.

According to Nextgov and other news outlets, committee members also include:

  • Walter Copan, undersecretary of commerce for standards and technology, and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • Mike Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.
  • Paul Dabbar, undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation.
  • Peter Highnam, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
  • Jason Matheny, director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

There’ll also be representatives from the National Security Council, the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Office of Management and Budget. The makeup reflects the model set by the White House’s National Space Council, which was re-established by the Trump administration last year.

In a briefing document issued today, the White House pointed to a variety of AI-related initiatives conducted over the past year, including international talks on AI innovation and programs to boost STEM education and apprenticeships.

Last year, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin downplayed the potential impact of AI in remarks that earned some derision from the tech community. He said it would be “50 or 100 more years” before the U.S. had to worry about the impact of automation on jobs.

Kratsios took the concern more seriously in today’s prepared remarks. “To a certain degree, job displacement is inevitable,” FedScoop quoted him as saying. “But we can’t sit idle, hoping eventually the market will sort it out. We must do what Americans have always done: adapt.”

In 2016, the Obama White House convened a series of workshops on AI and its implications, starting with a workshop in Seattle. That process resulted in a 58-page report calling for better information sharing, improved training to understand AI, targeted support of AI research and other policy initiatives.

During today’s summit, which was closed to the media, more than 100 researchers, government officials and industry executives met to discuss what they’re doing in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation.

In addition to the usual tech titans, the guest list included representatives from Boeing, Mastercard, Ford, Land O’Lakes and United Airlines. The Washington Post reported that Amazon would be represented by Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist for the Alexa AI program.

Among the topics on the agenda are;

  • Concerns about privacy, sparked by the recent scandal focusing on Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data for political purposes.
  • Concerns about America’s international competitiveness in AI research and development, stoked by multibillion-dollar initiatives laid out by China and the European Union.
  • Concerns about regulatory requirements for AI. Bloomberg News reported that Kratsios promised a hands-off regulatory approach in his prepared remarks. “We didn’t cut the lines before Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call,” Kratsios said. “We didn’t regulate flight before the Wright Brothers took off at Kitty Hawk.”
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