2018 Conference “Humanity Disrupted: Artificial Intelligence and Changing Societies”

man in suit speaking from behind lectern
Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Kent Logsdon delivering welcome message

CDA Kent Logsdon Remarks:

Aspen Institute Deutschland’s Conference on Artificial Intelligence

March 14, 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.  When I was first approached by Rüdiger and Tyson about the possibility of speaking at this conference, I was intrigued.  Artificial Intelligence technologies are already positively influencing each of our lives and hold the promise to make substantial improvements in many areas, including health and safety, scientific discovery, communication and diplomacy, productivity and economic performance, weather forecasting, security, agriculture, transportation, and more.  Who wouldn’t be intrigued about A.I.?

Then, while pondering these developments in A.I., I asked my favorite digital assistant what the weather forecast looked like for Berlin, and I got a full report for Berlin… New Hampshire.  Now, New Hampshire is lovely, but that’s not exactly what I was looking for.

And while preparing this speech, the spellchecker kept insisting that Rüdiger should be corrected to “Ruddier” or “Rodger”…   So, we still may have a little way to go before I am willing to give the machines complete control.

While these are simplistic anecdotes, they do point to a need to manage expectations about Artificial Intelligence and remind us that real people, such as those living in Berlin, Germany, named Rüdiger, are the intended beneficiaries of the coming A.I. revolution.

But in all seriousness, the promise of A.I. is indeed great.  Artificial intelligence shows great potential to enhance our economic growth, sharpen our scientific tools, benefit our security and improve our quality of life.  Look at the broad agenda set out for this conference over the coming two days:  Finance, Security, the Arts, Health, Journalism, Robotic Manufacturing, Economics, Transportation, and Recreating the Human Experience….   There don’t appear to be many areas of life that will be left untouched by Artificial Intelligence.

The conference program also highlights that there are serious issues to be discussed, and many of these issues will require leadership to develop A.I. technologies that seize the benefits while managing the risk.

Perhaps the most important challenge for public policy leaders around the world is to resist the urge to try to control or centrally plan the development of future innovation.  We should instead empower people to develop the skills necessary to make the most of these technologies.  And we should work together to encourage approaches across the globe that will lead to greater prosperity for all.

I expect that both the United States and Germany will continue to exercise leadership in many fields of Artificial Intelligence.  I think it is important that we remain leaders, not only because of the positive economic effects A.I. leadership could have on our societies, but also because it will permit us to shape how values are applied and ensure democratic values are reflected in these systems.  Values will play a critical role in this A.I. revolution, just as values have played critical roles in the previous shifts and revolutions I have seen in my three decades as a diplomat.

Many of the values that drive the transatlantic relationship will also prove vital to the successful development of A.I. systems: openness, transparency, and responsibility.  A.I. innovation and deployment, like our democratic systems, benefit from multistakeholder dialogue with broad participation from the private sector, academia, civil society, and others.  We are seeing this process at work more broadly in the rapid expansion of the transatlantic digital economy, and many lessons apply to the development of A.I.

The United States supports a transatlantic digital economy that creates jobs and facilitates cross-border data flows while protecting data and people’s privacy.  There’s a lot at stake:  transatlantic digital trade is currently worth $300 billion each year and Europe is America’s top overseas market for digital services.  We believe it is in Europe’s best interest to have a light regulatory touch for the “Digital Single Market” and that any new regulations reflect input from a wide range of stakeholders.

There are some additional values, or approaches to business and technology development, that I think will advantage those who adopt them as we look towards the future of leveraging A.I.  Americans are, I believe, fundamentally optimistic, and optimism – believing that it can be done, taking risks in anticipation of a breakthrough – is an essential part of innovation.  We also tend towards a bottom-up approach, rather than top-down.  The United States government is not going to try to pick the best technology or direct specific approaches to A.I. research.  Rather, we are trying to create a positive and open regulatory framework that emphasizes goals (such as auditability and safety) and does not dictate programming processes, thus allowing experimentation and innovation to flourish.  We want to support A.I. researchers through appropriate public funding for research and development; by emphasizing basic research related to A.I and machine learning; and by promoting STEM education and workforce development.  We also want to encourage responsible and vetted data inputs for the purpose of training A.I. systems, especially in areas like human health and medicine.

So, in summary:   Approaches to Artificial Intelligence should embrace openness, transparency, and responsibility.  We also believe that private industry is best positioned to take the lead in a favorable regulatory environment.  With these approaches, I would argue the United States, Germany, and partners who share these values are well positioned to lead the A.I. revolution forward.

Thanks again for allowing me to take part, and I wish you a successful conference.