WASHINGTON -- The White House on Thursday plans to convene executives from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Intel and 34 other major U.S. companies as it seeks to supercharge the deployment of powerful robots, algorithms and the broader field of artificial intelligence.
The Trump administration intends to ask academics, government officials and artificial intelligence developers about ways to adapt regulations to advance artificial intelligence in such fields as agriculture, health care and transportation, according to a draft schedule of the event. And they're set to discuss the U.S. government's power to fund cutting-edge research into such technologies as machine learning.
For the White House, the challenge is to strike a balance between the benefits of computers that can spot disease or drive cars and the reality that jobs -- or lives -- are at stake in the age of artificial intelligence.
"Whether you're a farmer in Iowa, an energy producer in Texas [or] a drug manufacturer in Boston, you are going to be using these techniques to drive your business going forward," Michael Kratsios, deputy chief technology officer at the White House, said in a recent interview.
Among those expected to be in the room for that private gathering Thursday will be representatives from tech giants like Microsoft, Nvidia and Oracle, as well as other businesses like Ford, Land O'Lakes, MasterCard, Pfizer and United Airlines, according to the White House. Scheduled to represent Facebook is Jerome Pesenti, its vice president of artificial intelligence, the company confirmed. Amazon plans to send Rohit Prasad, the head scientist for its voice assistant Alexa. Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich is also expected to attend.
By the Trump administration's own estimate, the U.S. government spent more than $2 billion in unclassified programs alone during fiscal 2017 to research and develop artificial intelligence technology, according to data furnished this week by the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. That doesn't include spending at the Pentagon and key intelligence agencies far removed from public view, or additional boosts that the White House has sought for 2019.
Still, many experts said they would ask the Trump administration this week to dedicate new federal dollars to fuel the field and help them compete with firms in other countries, particularly China, now seeking to incubate their own advancements in artificial intelligence. A key focus is jobs -- from training workers for new tech-heavy roles to helping those who may eventually be displaced because of automation.
"We do believe in the short and medium term there will be job losses," said Paul Daugherty, the chief technology and innovation officer of management-consulting firm Accenture, who is to attend the Thursday gathering. "There will be new jobs available, but the real challenge [is] if we can match people up and train them in an appropriate way."
Artificial intelligence encompasses a vast range of powerful technologies. It guides the self-driving cars offered by Uber and Google-owned Waymo. It's the software behind smartphone voice assistants like Apple's Siri and the facial-recognition tools on Facebook. And its ability to interpret large amounts of data is being tapped in new, unconventional ways, including efforts to reshape work force recruiting, farming and food production.
Roughly a year ago, the Trump administration publicly had sounded a different note on artificial intelligence. Steven Mnuchin, who had just been tapped as treasury secretary, told reporters that artificial intelligence was "not even on my radar screen," stressing that the real use and implication of those tools were "50 to 100 more years" on the horizon. The remark drew swift condemnation throughout the tech industry just months after the outgoing Obama administration had published two papers on artificial intelligence policy.
Tech companies had "a lot of bad blood" with the Trump administration in the early months, said Pedro Domingos, an artificial intelligence researcher and University of Washington professor who wrote "The Master Algorithm. President Donald Trump's focus on job loss in non-tech industries -- and his attacks on companies like Amazon -- didn't help, Domingos said. (Amazon chief executive Jeff P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Over the past year, however, the science and tech aides in the White House's ranks have sought to chart their own course on artificial intelligence. They last hosted leading executives from Apple, Amazon and Google at the White House in June, when Trump committed generally to removing regulatory barriers facing emerging technology.
At the White House, Trump in September signed a policy directive carving out $200 million for coding education grants that could help prepare students for jobs in science, technology and engineering fields.
Federal agencies like the Department of Transportation, meanwhile, have sought in recent rules to help deploy more self-driving cars on U.S. roads.
Later this week, the agency is expected to grant permission to as many as 10 cities and states to test more autonomous drones, potentially including those from Amazon and Google that would deliver packages. The move comes a week after another agency, the Food and Drug Administration, approved an artificial intelligence device to scan diabetic patients for a related eye disease -- the first such approval of its kind.
"I think it's been a slow ramp [up], but they're now focused on the right things," said Dean Garfield, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents companies like Apple, Facebook and Google. He said the White House's coming meeting "is an opportunity to accelerate toward success and leave that slow start in the rearview mirror."
Business on 05/09/2018
Print Headline: Tech execs to meet in D.C. on AI