By Mike Yantachka, Rep.

Jeopardy host: In the category “Technology,” systems (usually software) capable of perceiving an environment through data acquisition and then processing and interpreting the derived information to take action or imitate intelligent behavior given a specified goal.

Watson: What is artificial intelligence?

Many years ago, I went through a period of reading Isaac Asimov’s novels about robots, the kind that exhibited human functions, what we would call androids today. His first robot novel I, Robot was a collection of short stories about robots with human-like personalities that performed various jobs, like childcare, for example. Robots and androids have been a staple of literature from ancient times (search “robots in literature”), and most of us are familiar with those of the Star Wars anthology. We aren’t quite at the C3-PO stage yet, but the artificial intelligence that the robots of science fiction exhibited has become a reality with the development of high-powered computers today.

We are surrounded by artificial intelligence, also known as “AI,” whether we recognize it or not. The first AI algorithm was created and used successfully to master the game of checkers in 1956 by Dartmouth scholars. Fast forward to 2011 when IBM’s supercomputer, dubbed “Watson,” competed against two Jeopardy champions and won. The dialog at the top of this column did not actually take place, but it serves to define what AI is. Today we use AI to guide us to destinations, predict the weather, translate languages, for facial recognition, and many other applications. AI is used for scientific research, medical diagnoses, autonomous vehicles and more; and the government, including the Defense Department, funds advanced research in AI. AI is the source of many benefits, but it can also pose a risk if it is used improperly. For example, ubiquitous use of facial recognition threatens our expectations of personal privacy. And systems that determine eligibility for services can have built-in biases.

Already, AI is creating a wave of economic growth in Vermont with high-paying jobs in this field. The Legislature recognizes both the economic potential and the potential for abuse associated with AI development and use. Act 137 of 2018 created an Artificial Intelligence Task Force to investigate the field of artificial intelligence in the state and make recommendations on the responsible growth of Vermont’s emerging technology markets, the use of artificial intelligence in state government, and state regulation of the artificial intelligence field. The task force’s report was issued in January 2020 and can be found at legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Legislative-Reports/Artificial-Intelligence-Task-Force-Final-Report-1.15.2020.pdf.

The report states that “there is in fact a role for local and state action, especially where national and international action is not occurring. Large-scale technological change makes states rivals for the economic rewards, [whereas] inaction leaves states behind. States can become leaders in crafting appropriate responses to technological change that eventually produces policy and action around the country.”

Members of my committee, Energy and Technology, worked on a bill, H.410, over the summer that implements some of the recommendations of the Task Force, and we voted it out of committee last week. It creates an AI Commission under the auspices of the Agency of Digital Services and requires a survey of all software applications purchased, developed or used by State of Vermont agencies or departments. We want to know if any applications use AI, how it is used, and the potential impacts on Vermont citizens. The bill is awaiting action by the Appropriations Committee and will eventually be voted on by the full House.

As always, I welcome your emails or phone calls (802-233-5238). This article and others can be found at my website.





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