AI Investments by Government or by Others?

When problems don’t have a physical face, they are harder to see and easier to dismiss. Yet they can have deeper impact than many we can recognize. A powerful example is investment in research and development such as those in AI (artificial intelligence). It is something the government used to do, but is doing less and less and is slated to do even less in the Trump administration. It doesn’t mean that advances are not being made, they are. It means that much of the advances are made by the so called big five, sometimes called the Frightful Five—Amazon, Apple,  Facebook, Google and Microsoft. But  more importantly it also means that the profits from those advancements will go to them. It means that the advances will be made on their agenda, benefiting the people who are good for their bottom line. While from a business point of view that may sound very good, from a larger point of view, it leaves out consumers and average citizens. The Internet was created with the help of the government. Think of what it would be like if it had not been so, if the whole venture had strictly been undertaken by the private sector. It may be that all that’s currently free on the Internet would not be. Eric Schmidt, head of Alphabet, the parent company of Google wrote an op-ed asking for the government to invest in AI. We actually began to talk about the role of the government in research and development that affects everyone in relation to the human genome. We then began to ask who will benefit from that research. We did nto solve it then, and we may not solve it this time. But we must understand that the consequences are momentous. They are consequences with the power of altering the economy and what makes it tick, of affecting economic inequality, personal privacy and freedom and in turn how successful a democracy can be.