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National A. I. Commission Taps Local Tech Leader

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A Pensacola researcher has been named to the newly formed National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. Dr. Ken Ford, the founder, and CEO of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola is on the new commission, which was authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 to study artificial intelligence. "Much of our focus will connect to military applications of AI, but also the broader, societal impacts of AI."

The independent federal commission is expected to review global advances, investments, and strategies in artificial intelligence and related technology systems, evaluate foreign developments and investments in AI and recommend steps the United States might take to support its technological edge while ensuring national security and competitiveness.

Dr. Ford says the commission is made of a diverse group with various fields of expertise. "There are three or four people like myself that are academic AI researcher types. Then there are four or five senior business leaders. And then the other four or five would be people with extensive experience in policy from a government perspective."

In all, there are 15 members total, appointed by congressional leaders as well as the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Commerce. One of the things the commission will be studying will be ethical issues concerning artificial intelligence.

"People are concerned with 'machines run amok', sometimes motivated by science fiction," he explained. "And there are some legitimate ways that AI could be seriously misused. So, it's not so much the ethics of the machine, but the ethics of the people that deploy the machine. The technology is merely a tool. It has all to do with our wisdom with which we use these technologies. We have a hard time endowing ourselves and our children with ethical framework, and that's really what matters. It's sort of abdicating responsibility for what we do with the machines when we connect the ethics to the technology. The ethics really needs to reside in the humans."

While artificial intelligence may sound like a far-out theory that we may encounter in the future, Ford says it’s already a part of our everyday lives. "Every time you use the internet you're engaging with AI systems. Facebook (and) Google are AI companies essentially. Your car uses AI to manage the transmission. The routers in this building use AI. So it's all around us."

The official announcement of the commission said it should have a fast-tracked report ready after 90 days, however, that may be a bit optimistic given the topic and the people involved. With a bit of a chuckle, Ford said "They're expecting a report 90 days from the start date which was probably 89 days ago. The government shut down delayed everything for more than a month. But the initial report will be, I'm sure, (just) a place holder. The more profound reports will be forthcoming over time. But we want to get it done quickly. One of the biggest challenges is aligning these people's schedules. There are folks like the founder of Google on this commission and many other people with a lot of demands on their time. So just getting together has proven to be very difficult"

After the initial report, follow-ups are expected to be released this summer and the summer of 2020. Nothing in the report will be classified.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.