February 27, 2020

Artificial Intelligence Today and Tomorrow


  • Artificial intelligence is the ability of computers to do tasks that normally require humanlike thinking, such as the ability to learn new tasks.
  • Familiar items such as email spam filters and smart home devices use AI, as do emerging innovations like autonomous vehicles and advanced robotics.
  • AI has the potential to change the way war is waged and will be key to the evolution of U.S. national security.

Artificial intelligence is technology in which machines are given the ability to perform tasks that normally require humanlike thinking. Types of AI include machine learning and neural networks. It has a broad range of possible uses in transportation, health care, entertainment, education, agriculture, manufacturing, cybersecurity, and national defense.

Current uses are “narrow AI,” where the system does one specific task, such as recognizing images. In contrast, a “general AI” system would work more broadly and uses more of the human abilities to learn and to apply that knowledge to new areas. True general AI is unlikely to be achieved for decades.

A Wide Variety of AI

Artificial Intelligence

AI has the potential to make workers more productive, boost economic growth, and make life better for millions of people, as other new technologies have in the past. PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated that AI technologies could increase global GDP by $15.7 trillion, or 14%, by 2030. They also have the potential to disrupt many industries and the American labor market. The benefits probably will not be shared evenly, and industries likely will adopt AI at different rates. Governments at all levels will need to debate policies to help harness the benefits of AI while minimizing its risks.

how is ai used?

Common products and services that rely on AI today include spam filters that analyze large quantities of email and learn which ones are likely to be junk. Robotic vacuums figure out the best route for cleaning a home. Virtual assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, understand commands to play music, tell us the weather, and shop online.

Businesses are adopting AI technologies, including retailers who use it to do a better job of forecasting demand and to cut supply-chain waste. Farmers use autonomous equipment to sample soil, plow, and plant. Some have begun to use tracking devices that can predict if their dairy cows are getting sick. Ride-sharing businesses use AI to match passengers with drivers. Finacial companies analyze transactions with AI to help them spot fraud. A Canadian company that uses AI to track infectious diseases spotted the coronavirus before authorities announced an outbreak.

Complex applications of AI that are still being developed include fully self-driving vehicles, systems that can detect cancer as well as radiologists can, and robots that act more like humans do.

Concerns about ai

Though AI holds enormous potential, some observers are concerned about protecting people’s privacy. It can require large amounts of data, which might be stolen in a breach or repurposed in ways the user never intended.

Bias is another concern. If the data is incomplete or biased, the results the system produces are likely to be skewed or inaccurate. For example, some companies had begun using AI to comb through resumes and help make hiring decisions. Now some of those employers are rethinking the technology after research indicated the systems could be biased against women and minorities. If few woman have held a job in the past, the computer might downgrade the applications of new female candidates. A process known as “explainable AI” tries to minimize bias by having the system explain its rationale for its inferences and results. This may help developers to identify and remove biases from the system.

AI is expected to displace some workers while creating new jobs, but it is hard to predict how many and what types of jobs will be affected. A Brookings Institution study from 2019 predicted that higher-paying jobs requiring more education, such as computer programmers and market research analysts, may be most affected by AI, as will production jobs. The Pew Research Center has reported 82% of U.S. adults expect that by 2050 robots and computers generally will do work humans do now, though only 37% think the form of work they do will be done by this automation. Of course, our economy has created and eliminated whole classes of jobs before, and employment in various sectors has shifted. The American Action Forum noted that “between 2006 and 2016 … over 51 million jobs were destroyed, while 179 million jobs were created.” A McKinsey study found that from 1850 to 2015, agriculture’s share of U.S. workers fell by 56 percentage points, while the trade, health care, education, and financial services sectors grew.

New jobs and industries could arise, as happened with the introduction of personal computers and the internet. Some researchers expect AI will automate tasks but not necessarily entire jobs. Employers and policymakers will need to be concerned with how to help displaced workers gain the skills for new jobs.

AI and National Security

The U.S. national defense strategy released in January 2018 identified AI as one of the key technologies that will “ensure [the United States] will be able to fight and win the wars of the future.” In 2018, the defense authorization law established the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence to research ways to advance the development of AI for “the national security and defense needs of the United States.”

Multiplying Intelligence Capacity

Artificial Intelligence

The commission will complete its work next year, but its interim report recommended the U.S. increase investment in AI research and development, work to train and recruit a highly skilled AI workforce, and coordinate global cooperation on AI in the national security sphere.

The military already is using or researching AI in cybersecurity, logistics, transportation, and intelligence analysis. For example, the military might use a drone to collect video of possible enemy troop movements, and an analyst could scrutinize the images and try to judge their significance. Using AI, a computer could collect video and images from multiple drones and process them much faster. It would learn along the way to distinguish between important information and background noise.

The technology presents difficult legal and moral issues when used in weapons. There is ongoing debate about how it could or should be used in lethal autonomous weapons systems to select and engage targets without human intervention or control. Some countries have called for a prohibition on this technology.

Many military uses for AI are less controversial and may enable machines to complete a wide variety of dull, dangerous, and dirty tasks not involving weapons systems. Examples include mine detection, operating in contaminated environments, and reconnaissance in hostile territory. This could reduce the risk of injury or death among military personnel, and some jobs could be done better than people can do them consistently.

AI also has applications in cybersecurity. While AI-enabled cyberattacks could be much more efficient and more difficult to track than current cyberattacks, the technology also could identify and patch software vulnerabilities in a matter of seconds, rather than the weeks or months it can take humans.

China is the United States’ top competitor in the field of AI development and deployment. In 2017, the Chinese government released a strategy detailing its plan to reach “world leading levels” of AI investment and development by 2030. China is developing various military applications for AI, including cybersecurity and autonomous vehicles. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has noted, “Chinese weapons manufacturers are selling drones advertised as capable of full autonomy, including the ability to conduct lethal targeted strikes.”

AI strategies and regulations here and abroad

In February 2019, President Trump issued an executive order directing the federal government to pursue five pillars for advancing AI: invest in AI research; unleash federal AI resources; set AI governance standards; build the AI workforce; and promote an international environment that is supportive of American AI innovation and its responsible use.

Congress also has been engaged on AI issues, with several committees holding hearings on the subject. In January, Senator Wicker introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at advancing U.S. leadership in a number of industries of the future, including AI.

Many other countries have released strategies for AI technologies. The United Kingdom’s plan combines commitments from government and industry to increase investment, train more students, and encourage more AI companies to do business there. The EU recently announced plans to tightly regulate the use of AI technologies such as facial recognition. Canada, long a leader in AI research, gave grants to several research centers to expand AI capabilities and attract investment. Russian President Vladimir Putin also has announced his intent to pursue AI technologies: “The one who becomes the leader in this sphere will be the ruler of the world.”

Issue Tag: Technology