Lawmakers prepare for forthcoming effects of AI on the economy

Lawmakers prepare for forthcoming effects of AI on the economy
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers are looking to get a head start on artificial intelligence as the technology grows in prominence.

Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) told reporters on Wednesday that the new Artificial Intelligence Caucus, which he co-founded with Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), is working with industry groups to be ready for changes that AI is set to create in job markets.

The Maryland Democrat said that the purpose of the caucus would first and foremost be to educate and expose lawmakers to AI as it develops and becomes an increasingly integral part of the U.S. and world economy.

Delaney was joined by David Kenny, the head of IBM’s AI product, Watson, and Dean Garfield, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), a trade association representing technology companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and others.

The three spoke favorably on the future of AI, dismissing concerns that the technology would lead to widespread job displacement like some experts have warned against.

“This notion that there won’t be jobs [as a result of AI] is not well founded,” Delaney said, likening the rise of AI to globalization, which he contended provided a greater good to the world than any damage it has caused.

“I do believe that in the world I live, [AI] is going to create a lot more good than disruption,” IBM’s Kenny said, echoing Delaney.

Others in the technology space have been less bullish on what AI can do for the job market. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that there is a “good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation," as a result of job displacement. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has warned of “digital refugees,” that could be a result of AI and automation displacing workers.

Delaney noted that the primary goal of the caucus, at least initially, would be to educate other members of Congress and said that it is still too early in the process to be seriously considering many legislative options.

Garfield noted that his organization, ITI would be happy to lend an expert hand on educating Congress about AI innovation.

Delaney said that he would be willing to discuss legislation down the line on making AI algorithms more transparent.

“I think transparency is obviously really important. I think if the industry doesn’t do enough of it, I think we’ll [need to consider legislation] because I think it really matters to the American people,” Delaney said.

Ethicists have raised questions about moral decisions AI, like self-driving cars, will have to make about who to potentially kill in life-and-death situations where something like a car crash is unavoidable.

“I believe industry has a responsibility to step up. We all have a right to know how that decision was made [by AI],” Kenny said. “It cannot be a blackbox. We’ve constructed Watson to always be able to show how it came to the inference it came to. That way a human can always make a judgment and make sure there isn’t an inherent bias.”