July 22, 2016

Policymakers and Artificial Intelligence

Today, the Niskanen Center submitted comments to the Office of Science and Technology Policy on the social and economic ramifications of artificial intelligence (AI). Although more advanced forms of AI are still many years (possibly decades) away, there are already many examples of narrowly-tailored AI algorithms at work in our daily lives. From virtual personal assistants like Siri and Cortana, to Google’s search engine, this technology is already all around us. Many emerging applications of advanced algorithms are also poised to disrupt other areas of life, such as autonomous vehicles. As a result, policymakers and regulators need to begin thinking about the issues associated with this rapidly developing technology.

Executive Summary:

The long-awaited promise of artificial intelligence (AI) is beginning to materialize. Powerful AIs, such as IBM’s Watson and Google’s Deepmind, which has bested the world’s Go champion, herald the “springtime” of AI research and development. However, some find the flowering of the technology alarming, and wonder aloud whether AI may lead to a Terminator-style future in which incomprehensibly intelligent computers destroy human civilization. Even moderate critics of AI warn that we now stand on the verge of a mass labor dislocation in which up to half of all jobs may be taken by machines. For now, however, these worries are extremely speculative, and the alarm they cause can be counterproductive.

In order to maximize the benefits associated with ongoing developments in AI, we recommend that policymakers and regulators:

(1) avoid speaking of hyperbolic hypothetical doomsday scenarios, and

(2) embrace a policy of regulatory restraint, intervening in the development and use of AI technology only when and if the prospect of harm becomes realistic enough to merit government intervention.

Read the full comments here.