New Report Rebuts Hyperbolic Myths About Hypothetical Harms from Artificial Intelligence; To Capture Benefits, ITIF Calls on Policymakers to Actively Support the Tech

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Artificial intelligence (AI) holds great promise for economic growth and social progress, but pervasive, inaccurate myths about hypothetical harms could encourage policymakers to retard further innovation in the technology, according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). ITIF, a leading tech policy think tank, makes the case that policymakers should actively support further development and use of artificial intelligence if we want society to reap the myriad benefits it has to offer.

Getting the Facts Straight for Common Myths About Artificial Intelligence (Source: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation)

Artificial intelligence (AI) holds great promise for economic growth and social progress, but pervasive, inaccurate myths about hypothetical harms could encourage policymakers to retard further innovation in the technology, according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). ITIF, a leading tech policy think tank, makes the case that policymakers should actively support further development and use of artificial intelligence if we want society to reap the myriad benefits it has to offer.

“A diverse cast of critics is warning policymakers that AI will produce a parade of horribles, including mass unemployment, abuse from bias, the end of privacy, an atrophying of human agency, and even the destruction of humanity,” said Robert D. Atkinson, ITIF’s president and the report’s author. “But the truth is that these detractors are painting a picture that is more like a movie script than the reality we are likely to enjoy. Unfortunately, their voices have grown so loud that we are nearing a tipping point where their narratives may be accepted as truth, which would create a real risk that policymakers will decide to ratchet back the pace of progress.”

Atkinson points to several prominent figures who have promoted two of the most pernicious misconceptions—that AI will take all of our jobs and destroy humanity:
-MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee: Workers are “losing the race against the machine, a fact reflected in today’s employment statistics.”
-Author Nicholas Carr: “Automation can take a toll on our work, our talents, and our lives.”
-Stephen Hawking: “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last... .”
-Elon Musk: The prospect of AI is “our greatest existential threat.”

Atkinson debunks these and other prevailing myths about AI that, if left unchecked, could undermine the technology’s progress:

1. Myth: AI will destroy most jobs.

Reality: AI will be like past technologies, modestly boosting productivity growth and having no effect on the overall number of jobs or unemployment rates.

2. Myth: Smart machines will take over and potentially exterminate the human race.

Reality: We will be lucky if smart machines become smart enough to even make us a sandwich.

3. Myth: AI will make us stupid.

Reality: AI will help us make smarter decisions.

4. Myth: AI will destroy our privacy.

Reality: AI will have no effect on privacy, since most information practices are bound by laws and regulations.

5. Myth: AI will enable bias and abuse.

Reality: In most cases, AI will be less biased than humans.

“Improvements in artificial intelligence have enabled computers to be an ever more powerful and valuable complement to human capabilities, improving everything from medical diagnoses, to weather prediction, to transportation,” continued Atkinson. “And this is just scratching the surface when it comes to the benefits this technology could offer society if we accelerate, rather than restrict its development and adoption.”

Atkinson suggests that to avoid slowing progress, policymakers should proceed on the assumption that AI will be fundamentally good, and while it may present some risks—as most new technologies do—we should focus on addressing those risks if and when they arise, rather than slowing the technology. He also urges policymakers to significantly increase support for research and development on AI, including on making AI more powerful and effective, but also safer, more secure, and more transparent. Finally, he says that policymakers should support companies and government agencies in using AI to work more productively.

“Technological innovation always has been and always will be a key to future growth and progress, and AI is poised to play the same sort of role, provided we do not give into an unwarranted techno-panic,” said Atkinson. “We should embrace future possibilities with optimism, because the cost of not developing artificial intelligence—or developing it more slowly—would be enormous. We could face lower growth in per-capita incomes, slower progress in areas such as health care and the environment, and reduced quality improvement in a wide array of public and private goods and services. Rather than give in to fear, policymakers should be doing everything possible to accelerate the progress of AI innovation and the countless benefits it will bring.”

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