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Words from Charlie - Foreword to The 2016 Roundtable on Artificial Intelligence Report

We stand at the doorstep of a significant resurgence of artificial intelligence (AI). The advances are driven by extraordinary computing power and a constellation of new technologies that range from machine-learning and neural networks to natural-language processing and knowledge representation. These AI technologies are pervasive and manifest in systems across industries throughout the world. Whether it be an AI assistant, self-driving cars, algorithmic newsfeeds, or playing chess, the widespread impact of AI systems provoke both intrigue and caution. How these artificially intelligent technologies impact our society, our economies, our governments and our well-being remains generally unknown.

It is within this space that the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program convened its first ever Roundtable on Artificial Intelligence in August 2016. Twenty-two leaders and experts from industry, academia and the non-profit sector met and explored issues at the intersection of AI technologies, society, economy, ethics and regulation. The Roundtable encouraged participants to critically address the values that should inform AI development and to envision appropriate frameworks and public polices for its future. Specifically, discussions revolved around the promise and challenge of adopting AI technologies in three long-standing industries.

The following report, “Artificial Intelligence Comes of Age: The Promise and Challenge of Integrating AI into Cars, Healthcare and Journalism,” authored by David Bollier, traverses the realities of AI technologies and its impact on these three important sectors. As participants noted, AI systems make possible new efficiencies and spur innovation; but, they also threaten our normative ideas of work, social customs, ethical boundaries and regulatory oversight.

The report is divided into four sections. First, “AI and Self-Driving Cars,” provides an overview of the “very public character” of self-driving cars, which highlights public anxieties surrounding safety of AI systems and tensions between market innovation and regulation. Second, “AI and Healthcare,” considers AI’s transformative impact on medical research, patient diagnoses and treatment options, highlighting big data and deep learning techniques. Notably, a discussion on structural barriers to expanding AI in healthcare features problems ranging from data islands to privacy. The third section, “AI Begins to Change Journalism and News Organizations,” examines the changing dynamics of the news business in light of new digital platforms and outdated revenue models. As the journalism tradition declines, so does its role as a vital democratic institution and resource for civic information. Lastly, the report ends with “AI Bound or Unbound,” which envisions the future of AI as determined by who controls it and who will guide its development.

On behalf of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, I want to thank Michael Ferro and the Ferro Institute for their leadership and support in developing this roundtable. Thanks, also, to David Bollier, our rapporteur, for capturing the various dialogues and nuanced viewpoints into this report of the inaugural Roundtable on Artificial Intelligence. As is typical of our roundtables, this report is the rapporteur’s distillation of the dialogue. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of each participant at the meeting. Finally, I want to thank Jennarose Placitella and Kristine Gloria, Project Managers, and Tricia Kelly, Managing Director, for their work on the conference and bringing this report to fruition.

Charlie Firestone
Executive Director
Communications & Society Program
The Aspen Institute
January 2017

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