On December 20, 2016, the White House released a report examining the potential economic effects of artificial intelligence (“AI”).  This report follows closely on the heels of another released by the White House only two months ago that explored more broadly the questions raised for society and public policy by progress in AI.

The December report posits that accelerating AI capabilities could have the effect of increasing economic inequality by enabling automation of tasks that have long required human labor.  While these transformations open up new employment opportunities and create benefits for society, they will also displace the individuals currently performing these jobs.  Research consistently finds that the jobs threatened by automation are highly concentrated among lower-paid and less-educated workers, and that the benefits of technology tend to accrue fastest to highly skilled workers.

The report presents three strategies the U.S. government could take to reap the benefits of AI while softening the effects of potential displacement:

  1. Invest in AI.  The report highlights certain areas of AI development in which the government could spend research and development funds that could lead to positive outcomes for all individuals and benefit the country’s standing in the world, including cyberdefense and the detection of fraudulent transactions and messages.  The report also emphasizes the importance of diversity in tech fields.  Increasing the types of voices represented in the AI community is key to addressing potential barriers stemming from algorithmic bias.  This feeds directly into the second strategy:
  2. Educate and Train for Jobs of the Future.  As AI changes the nature of work and the skills demanded by the labor market, American workers will need to be prepared with the education and training that can help them continue to succeed.  Delivering this education and training will require significant investments.  The report does not mince words in criticizing the current state of the American educational system.  It emphasizes the importance of every level of education, from early education to job transition programs, and recommends increasing funding for job training by a factor of six to put the U.S. on par with other countries.
  3. Support Displaced Workers.  Despite the previous two strategies, the report notes that  inevitably some workers will be displaced.  The report emphasizes that the government should invest in unemployment insurance, Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF to make sure those who lose their jobs can stay on their feet while finding or training for the next opportunity.  The report recommends developing new safety net programs, such as wage insurance, and suggests that policymakers should be prepared to take even more robust action in the event a significant proportion of Americans were to have employment opportunities displaced by developments in artificial intelligence.

It is unclear, of course, the extent to which any of these suggestions will be followed by the next Administration.  Regardless, the report emphasizes the important role government could play alongside industry as AI develops, and makes clear that AI will move forward regardless of whether the government chooses to engage with its development.