Obama White House’s final tech recommendation: Invest in AI


One of the most important things that the U.S. can do to improve economic growth is to invest in artificial intelligence, or AI, said the White House, in a new report. But there’s a dark side to this assessment as well.

AI-driven, intelligent systems have the potential to displace millions, such as truck drivers, from their jobs. But potential negative impacts can be offset by investments in education as well as by ensuring there is a safety net to help affected people, the White House argued, in what will likely be the Obama administration’s final report on technology policy.

Some of the report’s recommendations, which include expanded unemployment help and access to healthcare, may be anathema to a Republican-controlled Congress with a focus on tax reductions and spending cuts. But this report— (PDF)—which was in the works well before election day, also describes broader, technological-driven changes that will impact jobs and may pose issues for President-elect Donald Trump.

The “biggest concern” about AI “is that we won’t have enough of it—and we won’t have enough productivity growth,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, on a telephone press briefing Tuesday. “Anything we can do to have more AI will contribute to more productivity growth and will help make possible more wage and income growth.”

in advancing the AI field by investing in research and development.”

Furman previously put at $200 million a year, but private investments at $2.4 billion a year.

But if you read deeply into the White House report, the future society it describes may be a hostile and desperate one. It will be a society where intelligent machines move up the occupation ladder and the economic benefits go to those with the most skills—the “fortunate few,” and the owners of capital, or the top 0.01 percent of wealth. In this scenario, inequality grows.

Preventing a dismal outcome will take investment particularly in education, argued Furman. In earlier, manufacturing-related economic shifts, “we were making a really big investment to make sure that people could take advantage of the new types of jobs,” he said.