Crucial Stages

Artificial intelligence (AI) is in its crucial developmental stages and the government doesn't seem to be to keen on shaping the way forward, according to experts during a senate inquiry into the dawn of AI.

The senate's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, under the helm of Texas Senator (R) Ted Cruz, convened November 30 to discuss the state of AI research and development, and its policy effects and implications on commerce. According to experts present at the hearing, the government isn't doing much to provide guidelines and directions on AI research.

The experts, including Microsoft Research's managing director Eric Horvitz, believe the government is in a unique position to shape the future of AI – especially since AI is still in its developmental stages. Horvitz said AI innovation can help in areas such as homelessness and addiction where there's not much investment from the industry yet — which the government can help pursue.

Currently, AI research is largely distributed within a few industry giants, like Google and Facebook.

Policy is Key

The hearing itself is a good sign. It provided an avenue for the government to figure out just how much AI research is being done, and which areas could be covered by relevant applications. As OpenAI's cofounder and CTO Greg Brockman said, there is a "real hunger for basic research" in the industry as technologists see they are yet to make the most important advances.

Of course, the obvious concern over automation was addressed at the hearing. Both Brockman and Horvitz said that long-term issues, such as job displacement, should be addressed by investing in more focused research on the matter.

But it's more than just that. In the current state of AI R&D, the government is in a position to push for developing applications that address more immediate issues. Andrew Moore, dean of the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, gave as an example the experience of a veteran seeking information on healthcare options online. It's a process that the right AI application could make more efficient.

The government must now work on policies backed by sound research, as the experts said in the hearing, and as suggested in the "National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan" released last October.

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