In October 2016, President Obama started a public dialogue around the future of artificial intelligence. At the White House Frontiers Conference, hosted in partnership with University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, he shared his vision for AI research. There was also a first-of-its-kind report—Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence—which outlined how the government can be involved in researching, developing, and regulating future technologies. And for Wired magazine, President Obama wrote a guest piece and was interviewed about the future of artificial intelligence.
While some experts voiced concern over President Obama's optimism that jobs will not be displaced, and his grasp of the potential dangers of artificial general intelligence, his efforts were largely praised by the AI community.
So, what happens next? Here are several areas where AI experts see how a Trump presidency may influence the future of AI.
"It is difficult to know how Trump will approach AI issues," said Susan Schneider, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut. "In general, he's said little about science during his campaign."
Marie desJardins, AI professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and former chair of AAAI (the National Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence), has a darker view. "I think that a Trump presidency will be horrible for scientific and medical research of all types, particularly with a Republican House and Senate," she said. "I believe that funding for research will be dramatically cut, and I don't think that private industry can or will step in to fill the gap that will be created," said desJardins.
"I am afraid that all of the progress we've made on CS education and science research will be undone," said desJardins.
Beyond the issue of how research is approached is another problem: Attracting high-skilled researchers to the US.
Vince Conitzer, professor of computer science at Duke University, wonders if the US will still be able to hire top AI researchers, given Trump's confusing stance toward H-1B visas. "There is concern in Silicon Valley about Trump's anti-immigration stance, especially about whether enough H-1B visas will be made available to hire top tech talent from around the world. AI experts are, these days, especially highly sought after," he said.
Another side effect of a Trump presidency could be that high-skilled foreign workers are less inclined to come here, even if visas are available.
SEE: AI experts weigh in on the White House approach to artificial intelligence (TechRepublic)
"Much of the world's top tech talent may simply prefer to stay out of the US if they feel there is too much hostility to foreigners, or to science, in the form of climate change denial," said Conitzer. "And the rest of the world will jump all over the opportunity to steal the top tech talent away from the US. Of course, this issue extends far beyond Silicon Valley as the top people in tech, and AI especially, are increasingly sought after in many industries, academia, government, and the military."
"Increased funding for basic research through the National Science Foundation and other agencies is essential to keep the US at the forefront of AI research and attract the best people," he said.
While AI research may be cut, and researchers may be tougher to hire, there may be a silver lining: Peter Thiel. President-elect Trump appointed Thiel, a tech billionaire, to his transition team. "Thiel is a strong supporter of AI Safety and donated funding to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute," said Roman Yampolskiy, director of the Cybersecurity Lab at the University of Louisville. "I suspect AI Safety will continue to be on the president's radar in the Trump administration and hopefully will take front seat in terms of funding priorities."
Schneider agrees that, because of Thiel's appointment, "perhaps Trump will pay attention to AI development and safety."
Still, Conitzer worries about AI safety, given Trump's comments about nuclear proliferation. "Will Trump's foreign policy contain or encourage an AI arms race? Countries will similarly build up their cyber capabilities, and the same is likely to be true for increasingly weaponized AI," he said. So, it's hard to know about the chances for a ban on autonomous weapons, he said.
Education and training
Under a Trump administration, can the US still train the best researchers, domestically? "The current US education system, especially pre-college, is not up to the task," said Conitzer. "The Obama administration has pushed hard for STEM education, but will the Trump administration do the same? Besides the enormous need for people with deep training in AI, as AI pervades our lives, more and more careers will require interdisciplinary training that involves some background in AI, as well as in other fields."
While much of Trump's campaign has focused on bringing back jobs, Conitzer thinks that AI progress may render some of these jobs obsolete. He doesn't see this as justification for a basic income requirement. Still, "rather than focus on bringing back jobs from the past, the Trump administration will need focus on creating and preparing people for the jobs of the future," Conitzer said.
"Trump certainly can't afford to ignore technological unemployment as his base will be especially vulnerable to it," she said.
- AI will destroy entry-level jobs - but lead to a basic income for all (TechRepublic)
- Q&A: Former AAAI chair discusses future of AI research and what's coming up at AAAI next month (TechRepublic)
- Artificial Intelligence and IT: The good, the bad and the scary (Tech Pro Research)
- Obama's report on the future of artificial intelligence: The main takeaways (ZDNet)
- White House to hire its first chief information security officer (ZDNet)
Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.