President Obama Sets Out US AI Plan

It’s not everyday that the US President, Barack Obama, sets out his and his advisors’ thoughts on the use of AI. Today, the White House published a special report by the Executive Office of the President and the National Science and Technology Council, called ‘Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence’, which considers the future impact of AI and what the Government needs to do to both foster its growth and to regulate it.

It’s a wide-ranging report that looks at many topics, but what is clear is that AI is not going to escape regulation for long, even if the report also sets out many positive aims, such as using the Government as an early adopter of AI applications to help support new developments.

The report also encourages publicly-funded bodies to embrace AI and to help improve life for all by tapping the benefits of this technology. The report states:

One area of great optimism about AI and machine learning is their potential to improve people’s lives by helping to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges and inefficiencies. The promise of AI has been compared to the transformative impacts of advances in mobile computing. Public and private sector investments in basic and applied R&D on AI have already begun reaping major benefits for the public in fields as diverse as health care, transportation, the environment, criminal justice, and economic inclusion.’

It is also interesting because it comes in the same week that lawmakers in the UK also called for a commission on AI to provide global leadership on its social, legal and ethical implications. The new UK-based AI commission would be based at the Alan Turing Institute, the national centre for data science in London.

Overall, the report raises many positive points and probably on balance is promoting the good that AI will bring, rather than any possible risks. One particular positive is the fact the report writers have helped to rubbish the ‘AI as armageddon and job stealer’ cliché and instead focus on how humans and AI will work together in a team:

‘People have long speculated on the implications of computers becoming more intelligent than humans. Some predict that a sufficiently intelligent AI could be tasked with developing even better, more intelligent systems, and that these in turn could be used to create systems with yet greater intelligence, and so on, leading in principle to an “intelligence explosion” or “singularity” in which machines quickly race far ahead of humans in intelligence.

In a dystopian vision of this process, these super-intelligent machines would exceed the ability of humanity to understand or control. If computers could exert control over many critical systems, the result could be havoc, with humans no longer in control of their destiny at best and extinct at worst. This scenario has long been the subject of science fiction stories, and recent pronouncements from some influential industry leaders have highlighted these fears.

A more positive view of the future held by many researchers sees instead the development of intelligent systems that work well as helpers, assistants, trainers, and teammates of humans, and are designed to operate safely and ethically.

The NSTC Committee on Technology’s assessment is that long-term concerns about super-intelligent General AI should have little impact on current policy.

The policies the Federal Government should adopt in the near-to-medium term if these fears are justified are almost exactly the same policies the Federal Government should adopt if they are not justified…..

Although prudence dictates some attention to the possibility that harmful super- intelligence might someday become possible, these concerns should not be the main driver of public policy for AI.’


It therefore seems that it’s not just the legal world that has become acutely aware of the future impact of AI. Will this interest in seeking to regulate AI be a good or a bad thing? Well, that is a big question and Artificial Lawyer would very much like your views on this.

Here are two more extracts from the White House report, first a section on how AI could demand new regulatory oversight, and then 23 recommendations made by President Obama’s science and technology advisors, a couple of which could have some connection to legal AI.

The full report can be found here: Report.

On regulation:

‘In the coming years, AI will continue to contribute to economic growth and will be a valuable tool for improving the world, as long as industry, civil society, and government work together to develop the positive aspects of the technology, manage its risks and challenges, and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to help in building an AI-enhanced society and to participate in its benefits.


‘AI has applications in many products, such as cars and aircraft, which are subject to regulation designed to protect the public from harm and ensure fairness in economic competition. How will the incorporation of AI into these products affect the relevant regulatory approaches? In general, the approach to regulation of AI-enabled products to protect public safety should be informed by assessment of the aspects of risk that the addition of AI may reduce, alongside the aspects of risk that it may increase.

If a risk falls within the bounds of an existing regulatory regime, moreover, the policy discussion should start by considering whether the existing regulations already adequately address the risk, or whether they need to be adapted to the addition of AI.

Also, where regulatory responses to the addition of AI threaten to increase the cost of compliance or slow the development or adoption of beneficial innovations, policymakers should consider how those responses could be adjusted to lower costs and barriers to innovation without adversely impacting safety or market fairness.’

Recommendations in this Report

  • Recommendation 1: Private and public institutions are encouraged to examine whether and how they can responsibly leverage AI and machine learning in ways that will benefit society. Social justice and public policy institutions that do not typically engage with advanced technologies and data science in their work should consider partnerships with AI researchers and practitioners that can help apply AI tactics to the broad social problems these institutions already address in other ways.
  • Recommendation 2: Federal agencies should prioritize open training data and open data standards in AI. The government should emphasize the release of datasets that enable the use of AI to address social challenges. Potential steps may include developing an “Open Data for AI” initiative with the objective of releasing a significant number of government data sets to accelerate AI research and galvanize the use of open data standards and best practices across government, academia, and the private sector.
  • Recommendation 3: The Federal Government should explore ways to improve the capacity of key agencies to apply AI to their missions. For example, Federal agencies should explore the potential to create DARPA-like organizations to support high-risk, high-reward AI research and its application, much as the Department of Education has done through its proposal to create an “ARPA-ED,” to support R&D to determine whether AI and other technologies could significantly improve student learning outcomes.
  • Recommendation 4: The NSTC MLAI subcommittee should develop a community of practice for AI practitioners across government. Agencies should work together to develop and share standards and best practices around the use of AI in government operations. Agencies should ensure that Federal employee training programs include relevant AI opportunities.
  • Recommendation 5: Agencies should draw on appropriate technical expertise at the senior level when setting regulatory policy for AI-enabled products. Effective regulation of AI-enabled products requires collaboration between agency leadership, staff knowledgeable about the existing regulatory framework and regulatory practices generally, and technical experts with knowledge of AI. Agency leadership should take steps to recruit the necessary technical talent, or identify it in existing agency staff, and should ensure that there are sufficient technical “seats at the table” in regulatory policy discussions.
  • Recommendation 6: Agencies should use the full range of personnel assignment and exchange models (e.g. hiring authorities) to foster a Federal workforce with more diverse perspectives on the current state of technology.
  • Recommendation 7: The Department of Transportation should work with industry and researchers on ways to increase sharing of data for safety, research, and other purposes. The future roles of AI in surface and air transportation are undeniable. Accordingly, Federal actors should focus in the near-term on developing increasingly rich sets of data, consistent with consumer privacy, that can better inform policy-making as these technologies mature.
  • Recommendation 8: The U.S. Government should invest in developing and implementing an advanced and automated air traffic management system that is highly scalable, and can fully accommodate autonomous and piloted aircraft alike.
  • Recommendation 9: The Department of Transportation should continue to develop an evolving framework for regulation to enable the safe integration of fully automated vehicles and UAS, including novel vehicle designs, into the transportation system.
  • Recommendation 10: The NSTC Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence should monitor developments in AI, and report regularly to senior Administration leadership about the status of AI, especially with regard to milestones. The Subcommittee should update the list of milestones as knowledge advances and the consensus of experts changes over time. The Subcommittee should consider reporting to the public on AI developments, when appropriate.
  • Recommendation 11: The Government should monitor the state of AI in other countries, especially with respect to milestones.
  • Recommendation 12: Industry should work with government to keep government updated on the general progress of AI in industry, including the likelihood of milestones being reached soon.
  • Recommendation 13: The Federal government should prioritize basic and long-term AI research. The Nation as a whole would benefit from a steady increase in Federal and private-sector AI R&D, with a particular emphasis on basic research and long-term, high-risk research initiatives. Because basic and long-term research especially are areas where the private sector is not likely to invest, Federal investments will be important for R&D in these areas.
  • Recommendation 14: The NSTC Subcommittees on MLAI and NITRD, in conjunction with the NSTC Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Education (CoSTEM),, should initiate a study on the AI workforce pipeline in order to develop actions that ensure an appropriate increase in the size, quality, and diversity of the workforce, including AI researchers, specialists, and users.
  • Recommendation 15: The Executive Office of the President should publish a follow-on report by the end of this year, to further investigate the effects of AI and automation on the U.S. job market, and outline recommended policy responses.
  • Recommendation 16: Federal agencies that use AI-based systems to make or provide decision support for consequential decisions about individuals should take extra care to ensure the efficacy and fairness of those systems, based on evidence-based verification and validation.
  • Recommendation 17: Federal agencies that make grants to state and local governments in support of the use of AI-based systems to make consequential decisions about individuals should review the terms of grants to ensure that AI-based products or services purchased with Federal grant funds produce results in a sufficiently transparent fashion and are supported by evidence of efficacy and fairness.
  • Recommendation 18: Schools and universities should include ethics, and related topics in security, privacy, and safety, as an integral part of curricula on AI, machine learning, computer science, and data science.
  • Recommendation 19: AI professionals, safety professionals, and their professional societies should work together to continue progress toward a mature field of AI safety engineering.
  • Recommendation 20: The U.S. Government should develop a government-wide strategy on international engagement related to AI, and develop a list of AI topical areas that need international engagement and monitoring.
  • Recommendation 21: The U.S. Government should deepen its engagement with key international stakeholders, including foreign governments, international organizations, industry, academia, and others, to exchange information and facilitate collaboration on AI R&D.
  • Recommendation 22: Agencies’ plans and strategies should account for the influence of AI on cybersecurity, and of cybersecurity on AI. Agencies involved in AI issues should engage their U.S. Government and private-sector cybersecurity colleagues for input on how to ensure that AI systems and ecosystems are secure and resilient to intelligent adversaries. Agencies involved in cybersecurity issues should engage their U.S. Government and private sector AI colleagues for innovative ways to apply AI for effective and efficient cybersecurity.
  • Recommendation 23: The U.S. Government should complete the development of a single, government-wide policy, consistent with international humanitarian law, on autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons.

Much of the above is very practical in nature, for example the points about transportation. But other areas are quite open-ended and certainly could include some legal AI start-ups under their umbrella.

Obviously, it’s very early days, but at the same time it is clear that nations such as the US and UK plan to both be at the forefront of AI in developmental terms, but also seek to be there in terms of regulation.

It’s tempting to hope the regulators will stay away from legal AI, but it is likely they will seek to make an impact at some point. Moreover, as regulation and legislation comes into being then there will be new AI lawyers, not ones that use AI, but rather ones who litigate in relation to work carried out by AI systems. It would be great if that wasn’t the case, but it would seem we need to prepare ourselves for such changes as the sector becomes more mature.

As mentioned, Artificial Lawyer would very much welcome your views on this subject. Thank you.

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