UW Law Partners with the White House to Host Forum on Artificial Intelligence

Katherine Hedland

A distinguished panel of experts discussed the complicated questions surrounding law and policy related to artificial intelligence at a thought-provoking symposium at the UW law school co-sponsored by the White House, the University of Washington School of Law and the UW Tech Policy Lab. “Artificial Intelligence: Law and Policy” drew a standing-room only crowd.

All agreed that rapid advances in artificial intelligence require careful examination of the risks and benefits of this transformative technology and its repercussions on society.

“All over our country and all around our world, legal professionals are grappling with impact of technology,” said UW School of Law Dean Kellye Testy.

A view from the audience at the A.I seminar.

Testy said the Tech Policy Lab is a perfect example of true cross-disciplinary collaboration across boundaries. The Lab aims to enhance technology policy through research, education, and thought leadership. The Tech Policy Lab brings together experts from the School of Law, the Information School, Computer Science & Engineering, and other units on campus. Assistant Professor of Law Ryan Calo, who is a co-faculty director and national leader in robotics law and policy, helped plan the forum on at the law school.

“The Tech Policy Lab is a great resource, and this event could not be closer to its mission,” Testy said.

Experts readily acknowledge artificial intelligence presents risks and concerns, from ensuring security to managing the effects on jobs and the economy. But they say there are also tremendous potential benefits. Speakers at the forum said AI could literally mean the difference between life and death.

Ed Felten, White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington, said self-driving cars could save thousands of lives and provide mobility for people with disabilities. Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, said hospital errors cause more than 400,000 deaths in the United States every year – mistakes AI could help prevent.

“People are dying because we’re not using AI in hospitals,” Etzioni said.

There are myriad other ways artificial intelligence could improve lives, from customizing education to smarter government.

“All of this is available if we develop the technology with an eye to its benefits and with a careful consideration of its risk and challenges,” Felten said. “These challenges are already too big to be addressed by technologists alone, or lawyers alone. We need to collaborate.”

Calo said it’s important for lawyers to be involved in addressing those challenges.

“The question is what kinds of things can artificial intelligence do, and what kind of phenomena they will occasion that will pose interesting challenges for the law,” he said. “There is a serious question about whether or not for certain artificial intelligence systems a human has effective control over that system. That question may reverberate across the law.”  

While computers are approaching – and in some cases surpassing humans – in areas such as facial recognition and language translation, Etzioni points out that all artificial intelligence depends on real people to write the code, build the algorithms and make it work.

A group discussion at the A.I. seminar.

“In my 30 years in AI, I have gained a greater appreciation for the human mind,” Etzioni said.

Distinguished researchers and industry leaders joined panels to discuss the use of AI to make decisions of consequence and how to assess the safety and validity of autonomous systems.  It was the first of four symposia co-hosted by the White House across the country.

Upcoming sessions are:

Information from the symposia will feed into a White House public policy report due out later this year.

Calo said it was a privilege for the Tech Policy Lab to be invited to work with the White House. He is also helping to plan the upcoming forums.

“This is exactly what the Tech Policy Law was founded to do:  helping leaders think through emerging technology. It’s a testament to the how hard people have been working.”

If you missed the presentation, you can watch it online.