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Artificial Intelligence: Emerging Opportunities, Challenges, and Implications for Policy and Research

GAO-18-644T Published: Jun 26, 2018. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 2018.
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Fast Facts

Artificial intelligence (AI) could improve human life and economic competitiveness—but it also poses new risks.

The Comptroller General convened a Forum on AI to consider the policy and research implications of AI’s use in 4 areas with the potential to significantly affect daily life:


automated vehicles,

criminal justice, and

financial services.

Based on our March 2018 technology assessment, we testified that AI will have far-reaching effects on society—even if AI capabilities stop advancing today. We also testified about prospects for AI in the near future and areas where changes in policy and research may be needed.

Implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Policy and Research

Ring figure showing policies such as data sharing & security and research areas such as understanding effect on jobs & training

Ring figure showing policies such as data sharing & security and research areas such as understanding effect on jobs & training

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What Participants at GAO Forum on AI Discussed

To gain a better understanding of the emerging opportunities, challenges, and implications resulting from developments in artificial intelligence (AI), the Comptroller General of the United States convened the Forum on Artificial Intelligence, which was held on July 6 and 7, 2017, in Washington, D.C. GAO issued a technology assessment in March 2018 summarizing the results of this forum.

Forum participants noted a range of opportunities and challenges related to AI, as well as areas needed for future research and for consideration by policymakers. Regarding opportunities, investment in automation through AI technologies could lead to improvements in productivity and economic outcomes, according to a forum participant. AI can also be used to gather an enormous amount of data from multiple sources and detect abnormalities faster than humans can, and it could be used to help solve some of the world's most complex and pressing problems. The participants also highlighted a number of challenges related to AI. For example, if the data used by AI are biased or become corrupted by hackers, the results could be biased or cause harm. The collection and sharing of data needed to train AI systems, a lack of access to computing resources, and adequate human capital are also challenges facing the development of AI. Furthermore, the widespread adoption of AI raises questions about the adequacy of current laws and regulations. Finally, participants noted the need to develop and adopt an appropriate ethical framework to govern the use of AI in research.

After considering the benefits and challenges of AI, forum participants highlighted several policy issues they believe require further attention. In particular, they emphasized the need for policymakers to explore ways to (1) incentivize data sharing, (2) improve safety and security, (3) update the regulatory approach that will affect AI, and (4) assess acceptable levels of risk and ethical considerations. As policymakers explore these and other implications, they will be confronted with fundamental tradeoffs, according to forum participants. As such, participants highlighted several areas related to AI they believe warrant further research, including (1) establishing experimental safe havens where AI products can be tested; (2) developing high-quality labeled data, (3) understanding the implications of AI on training and education for jobs of the future, and (4) exploring computational ethics and explainable AI.

Why GAO Convened the CG Forum on AI

AI holds substantial promise for improving human life and economic competitiveness in a variety of ways and for helping solve some of society's most pressing challenges. At the same time, according to experts, AI poses new risks and could displace workers and widen socioeconomic inequality.

This statement, like the March 2018 technology assessment, summarizes: (1) the opportunities and future promise of AI, as well as the principal challenges and risks; and (2) the policy implications and research priorities resulting from advances in AI.

Forum participants included experts from industry, government, academia, and nonprofit organizations. The viewpoints expressed by the participants do not necessarily represent the views of all participants, their organizations, or GAO.

For more information, contact Timothy M. Persons at  (202) 512-6412 or

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