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Laurie A. Harris, Artificial Intelligence: Background, Selected Issues, and Policy Considerations (CRS Report R46795) (May 19, 2021) (full-text).


Artificial intelligence (AI) holds potential benefits and opportunities, but also challenges and pitfalls. For example, AI technologies can accelerate and provide insights into data processing; augment human Decision making; optimize performance for complex tasks and systems; and improve safety for people in dangerous occupations. On the other hand, AI systems may perpetuate or amplify bias, may not yet be fully able to explain their decision making, and often depend on vast datasets that are not widely accessible to facilitate research and development (R&D). Further, stakeholders have questioned the adequacy of human capital in both the public and private sectors to develop and work with AI, as well as the adequacy of current laws and regulations for dealing with societal and ethical issues that may arise. Together, such challenges can lead to an inability to fully assess and understand the operations and outputs of AI systems — sometimes referred to as the “black box” problem.

Because of these questions and concerns, some stakeholders have advocated for slowing the pace of AI development and use until more research, policymaking, and preparation can occur. Others have countered that AI will make lives safer, healthier, and more productive, so the federal government should not attempt to slow it, but rather should give broad support to AI technologies and increase federal AI funding.

In response to this debate, Congress has begun discussing issues such as the trustworthiness, potential bias, and ethical uses of AI; possible disruptive impacts to the U.S. workforce; the adequacy of U.S. expertise and training in AI; domestic and international efforts to set technological standards and testing benchmarks; and the level of U.S. federal investments in AI research and development and how that impacts U.S. international competitiveness. Congress is likely to continue grappling with these issues and working to craft policies that protect American citizens while maximizing U.S. innovation and leadership.