House Budget Committee Hearing Discusses Artificial Intelligence and the Future of the U.S. Workforce

Sep 28, 2020

by ASME.org

Earlier this month, the House Committee on the Budget held a hearing titled “Machines, Artificial Intelligence, & the Workforce: Recovering and Readying Our Economy for the Future.” During the hearing, committee members heard from a panel of experts who discussed recent advances in AI, the impact on the U.S. workforce, and specific steps that can be taken to minimize potential drawbacks. In his opening statement, Chairman John Yarmuth noted that while technological advances can often improve lives, productivity, and equality, they can also exacerbate underlying economic issues like racial and gender income gaps and poverty. AI could also lead to the replacement of old jobs; Chairman Yarmuth cited the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has estimated that “AI and automation could eliminate upwards of 14 percent of today’s jobs and disrupt an additional 32 percent.”
 
The committee first heard from Dr. Susan Athey, an Economics of Technology professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Associate Director of the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI). Dr. Athey stated that AI has enormous positive potential for society and emphasized that governments and universities will play a crucial role in ensuring that this potential is realized. The key for successful AI implementation, she argued, will be developing technologies that augment human employees, rather than replace them. Some of the most promising areas for AI integration include education, training, remote work, medicine, and government services, where AI can be used to produce cheaper, higher quality, more tailored, and more accessible goods and services. Companies may not always take into consideration a longer-term perspective, choosing to focus on their bottom line rather than on job retention. This is where it will be imperative that the federal government and universities collaborate to develop a national innovation and R&D strategy for AI implementation, Dr. Athey stated. This collaboration will need to be intentional in outlining a strategy to strengthen both humans and technology, rather than placing them in competition.
 
Dr. West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, noted that AI development will require policy changes in the areas of budgeting, infrastructure, healthcare, workforce development, education, and economic development. He described AI as “one of the transformative technologies of our time” and expects that it will have major ramifications for the U.S. workforce. In order to prepare the country for these developments, there will need to be significant investment from both the private and public sectors. Of particular importance is digital infrastructure; Dr. West stated that 18 million Americans lack sufficient access to the internet. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed stark inequalities in access to online education, telemedicine, and opportunities for remote work, and it is vital that this gap is closed as AI becomes more commonplace.
 
In addition to investment in digital infrastructure, Dr. West called for a national effort to encourage continuing education. Specifically, he called for the establishment of lifelong learning accounts. These accounts would be analogous to retirement accounts, and individuals could draw on the money to finance online learning, certificate courses, and other programs to continue their education.
 
Dr. Jason Matheny, Founding Director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University and Commissioner of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, echoed Dr. West’s suggestions. In addition to digital infrastructure, federal funding should also focus on areas of AI development where the private sector is likely to underinvest, including basic research, safety and security, testing and evaluation, and verification and validation. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) should continue to receive the resources it needs to “lead interagency and public-private collaborations on AI testing and evaluation,” Dr. Matheny argued, including resources to establish a national AI test bed. In the manufacturing industry specifically, the federal government should seek to strengthen U.S.-based semiconductor manufacturing in order to reduce dependency on other countries, mitigate supply chain disruptions, and increase manufacturing jobs in the U.S.
 
A complete list of witnesses is provided below:
  • Dr. Susan Athey—Economics of Technology Professor, Stanford Graduate School of Business; and Associate Director, Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI)
  • Dr. Daron Acemoglu—Institute Professor of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Dr. Darrell West—Vice President and Director of Governance Studies, Brookings Institution
  • Dr. Jason Matheny—Founding Director, Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University; and Commissioner, National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence 
Please visit here to read each witness’ testimony and watch the hearing in full.

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