It is only a month ago since President Barack Obama publicly put artificial intelligence on the map and brought awareness to this rapidly evolving technology at the White House Frontiers Conference. In addition to this, the report (Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence) was published for the first time ever, outlining in what ways the government can engage in the research, development, and regulation of this technology. With Donald Trump about to make his way into the White House, what will the future of AI in the U.S, look like with the Trump Administration? 

TechRepublic recently published an article predicting the future of AI in the U.S with Trump in charge, and the first area they address is AI research. In an interview with the associate professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, Susan Schneider, she acknowledged the lack of addressing  science in general during Trump’s election.

Marie desJardins, AI professor at the University of Maryland and former chair of AAAI (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence) expressed further concern, saying that she believes a Trump presidency will be “horrible for scientific and medical research of all types, particularly with a Republican House and Senate”.

“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,”  desJardins told TechRepublic, following up with: “I am afraid that all of the progress we’ve made on CS education and science research will be undone”.

The issue of how to approach research is not the only area of concern, as attracting high-skilled researchers to the U.S. might be difficult too. Vince Conitzer, professor of computer science at Duke University questions whether the U.S. will 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,” Conitzer told TechRepublic. This could also prevent high-skilled foreign workers to come to the U.S., even if visas were available.

“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. And the rest of the world will jump all over the opportunity to steal the top tech talent away from the US”, Conitzer told the website.

“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.

However, the future might not seem as dark as this picture paints, as Peter Thiel, a strong supporter of AI Safety is a part of Trump’s transition team. “Thiel is a strong supporter of AI Safety and donated funding to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute,” Roman Yampolskiy, director of the Cybersecurity Lab at the University of Louisville said. “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.”

Thiel’s appointment have made Schreider more positive about AI’s future at the hands of Trump and he hopes this will make him pay more attention to AI development and its safety. However, Conitzer is still concerned about AI safety, referring to Trump’s comments regarding 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 weaponised AI,” Conitzer said, hence why he believes it’s hard to know about the chances for a ban on autonomous weapons.

In terms of education and training it is questioned whether the U.S. can continue training the best researchers domestically. Conitzer says that the current U.S. education system, particularly pre-college, is not adequately equipped to do so, saying: “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.”

And now to one of the most debated issues related to AI – jobs. Despite a lot of Trump’s campaign evolving around bringing jobs back, Conitzer believes that progress in artificial intelligence can render some of these jobs obsolete, as 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, and Schneider agrees: “Trump certainly can’t afford to ignore technological unemployment as his base will be especially vulnerable to it,” she said.

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