On Thursday, the White House announced more than $300 million in funding, through partnerships, for tech innovations that will help Americans live in smart cities, improve healthcare, and even make it to Mars—while also addressing what increased automation could mean for job security.
At the first White House Frontiers Conference, co-hosted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, President Obama opened up a conversation on current innovations underway in America, and ones to come.
"We may be in a slightly different period now, simply because of the pervasive applicability of AI and other technologies," said President Obama in a video shown at the start of the conference. "High-skill folks do very well in these systems, and can leverage their talents and interface with machines to extend their reach, sales, products, and services. Low-wage, low-skill individuals become more and more redundant, and their jobs may not be replaced, but wages will be suppressed."
Here are the five frontiers of innovation the White House examined at the conference, and what they could mean for America's future.
1. Personal frontiers: Healthcare innovation and precision medicine
The federal government will provide $70 million in new National Institutes of Health (NIH) investments for brain research, with the hope of finding breakthroughs in treatment for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and depression.
The NIH also announced four new partners for the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), launched by the president in 2015, to help medical professionals personalize treatments to patients based on their individual genes, environment, and lifestyle. The initiative, now renamed the All of Us Research Program, will help create a database and set of tools that allow researchers to access information from electronic health records, medications, surveys, biospecimen, imaging, and wearables.
2. Local frontiers: Building smart cities with open data and the Internet of Things
The Obama Administration announced more than $165 million in public and private funds for the development of smart cities across the country. The funds, which will be deployed by the Department of Transportation, follow the White House's Smart Cities Initiative that aims to leverage new technologies to make cities "more inhabitable, cleaner, and more equitable." Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, Buffalo, and Marysville, OH will receive funds targeted for help relieving congestion and improving public transportation safety.
3. National frontiers: Leveraging the potential of AI
The White House recently released a first-of-its-kind report on AI's impact on the future, and how the government can mitigate job loss that may come from automation. It also sets out a roadmap for the government on approaching AI in the future with policies and regulations.
America needs to determine how to manage society's transition to AI, and ensure our economy remains inclusive, Obama said in the video. It will take 20 or 30 years before AI is commonplace in our society, he added, but we can make decisions now that will help us once AI is fully incorporated into our economic life.
The National Information Technology Research and Development Subcommittee simultaneously unveiled a new National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan, which describes plans to prioritize investments in AI research, ensure the security of AI systems, and develop shared public data sets for AI training and testing, and determine workforce needs around AI development.
4. Global frontiers: Increasing clean energy options and advanced climate information
The Obama Administration launched several programs that will "advance climate data, information, tools, and services," according to the press release. These initiatives are meant to connect community leaders, companies, and researchers to climate science data for planning purposes. One such program is the Climate Data Initiative, which collects data related to climate change for businesses and communities.
An impending new framework was also announced for US participation in Mission Innovation, a global initiative to aid clean energy innovation. The US also plans to leverage technology to reduce emissions and build on clean energy solutions.
5. Interplanetary frontiers: Space exploration and America's plans for Mars
In 2010, President Obama laid out plans to send a human mission to Mars in the 2030s. This week, the administration announced a collaboration with corporations to build the "habitats," or space modules in which US astronauts would travel to, and live in, on Mars and other interstellar destinations. "In the coming years, the work NASA will do—in collaboration with private and international partners—to develop these deep-space habitats will in turn help reduce the barriers to private companies that hope to build their own space stations in Earth's orbit or beyond," according to the press release.
This fall, NASA will also offer companies the opportunity to potentially add their own modules to the International Space Station. "As NASA shifts the focus of its human exploration program to deep space, America's businesses will take a larger role in supporting space activities in Earth's orbit," the press release stated.
Along with these initiatives, the Administration also announced over $50 million in new federal investments in "the small-satellite revolution." Advances in electronics and information technology can reduce the time and cost associated with designing, building, testing, and launching satellites. And progress in satellite technology development could ultimately lead to ubiquitous high-speed internet connectivity, and continuously updated photos of the Earth.
Finally, President Obama on Thursday signed a new executive order around mitigating space-weather events. The order will help develop technologies to better deal with these disasters, and create national response and recovery procedures. The order also calls for improved prediction technology for space-weather events and their impact on American infrastructure systems.
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Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.