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  • Max Och

IBM is Trying to Convince Congress That AI is Nothing to Fear

The IBM team behind their famous computer Watson is starting a massive lobbying effort to change the “dystopian” view of artificial intelligence, reports Recode.

If there were one team who understood the capabilities, current and future, of artificial intelligence, it would be the brainpower behind the Watson supercomputer. It can win Jeopardy, identify and track diseases and map weather forecasts.

Now, the fabled team attempts a new, more human challenge: convince Congress that the potential dangers of AI aren’t rooted in fact, and will not cripple the economy and job market, per Recode.

IBM senior vice president for Watson, David Kenny, has stressed that the true danger is stopping the incredible progress made by AI already. In a letter sent to Congress on Tuesday that was obtained by Recode, he said the “real disaster would be abandoning or inhibiting cognitive technology before its full potential can be realized.”

Experts and hordes of data seem to argue against the IBM team. They argue that the torrid pace of AI progress means it will replace not only manual labor jobs but white-collar positions such as stock analysts and radiologists.

The fears don’t stop there. Safety, security, and Orwellian-like privacy incursions are worries all fostered by what AI can realistically do. SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk even warns of “robots capable of destroying mankind,” per Recode.

But IBM sees these fears as closer to fantasy than real life. Its view is that technology progresses, as it always does, and the world changes around it. IBM’s philosophy appears to be along the lines of adapting with technology, rather than fearing it.

Mr. Kenny is pleading with Congress to acknowledge some of AI’s more laudable ideas, such as one from Bill Gates involving taxing robots. Not only would this reward tax payers for the efficiency of robots, but it would encourage recently unemployed citizens to start their own businesses on the shoulders of AI.

In his letter to Congress, Kenny was adamant about the positive future of AI.

“The impact of AI is evident in the debate about its societal implications — with some fearful prophets envisioning massive job loss, or even an eventual AI ‘Overlord’ that controls humanity, I must disagree with these dystopian views.”

The Obama administration was reasonably in tune with the AI freight train. It pushed Congress to hire more AI specialists to oversee and potentially eliminate any discrimination in automation, per Recode.

To halt algorithms from including the biases of their creators, be they racial, socio-political or economic, the Obama administration wanted trained AI experts and consultants to be in a position to review them before they were used to help U.S. citizens.

What is certain is that the ground to cover is not on the technological side of AI, but the political one. President Trump, and his successors, will need to adapt to a set of technological advances that they have never seen before.

Trump’s treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin has previously stated that AI is more than 50 years away from causing noticeable disruptions. This “wait and see” attitude, practically commonplace in the current administration, should be seen as more worrying than the AI implications themselves.

Preparedness is key in adapting to new technologies. Although AI is like nothing the political world has ever seen, it must start looking for long term solutions immediately.

IBM is urging Congress to do so.

Photo: IBM

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