Obama Mentions Artificial Intelligence in Speech to National Academy of Sciences

As part of his stated commitment to boost national funding in research and development to 3% of US GDP, Obama mentioned both AI and advanced prosthetics as research goals:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Monday promised a major investment in research and development for scientific innovation, saying the United States has fallen behind others.

“I believe it is not in our character, American character, to follow — but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development,” Obama said in a speech at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We will not just meet but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race,” he said.

Obama said the investments he is proposing would lead to breakthroughs, such as solar cells as cheap as paint and green buildings that produce all the energy they consume.

The pursuit of discovery a half century ago fueled the nation’s prosperity and success, Obama told the academy.

“The commitment I am making today will fuel our success for another 50 years,” he said. “This work begins with an historic commitment to basic science and applied research.”

He set forth a wish list for the future including “learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again; an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and world the around us.

“We can do this,” Obama said to applause.

See research.fi and Swivel for some numbers on R&D expenditure by GDP for various countries.

An interesting way of looking at this figure is as the revealed preference of how much of a nation’s resources are spent on fundamental improvement rather than merely continuing to exist at the current level of technology and capability.

AI software truly as effective as a personal tutor would probably have to be an AGI, incidentally. I’m not sure why Obama picked such a high bar as an example of AI research, but perhaps he really means “almost as good as a personal tutor”. In narrow domains, that might be possible with narrow AI, but not truly, because a really good personal tutor can make analogies and connections across completely different domains, and thus requires domain-general knowledge and reasoning.

Comments

  1. > I’m not sure why Obama picked such a high bar as an example of AI research

    – because he’s not an expert and therefore doesn’t realize quite how tough this would be. Other, far clever people have made exactly this mistake

  2. Carl Shulman

    If X hours of personal tutoring raises test scores by a mean of Y points, and using a copy of some educational software program raises scores by Y points, the statement is reasonable for many values of X.

    We have trucks that are more effective than horses in hauling loads, even though they can’t haul loads in the same way, or do a variety of other things horses can do.

  3. Depends on what, exactly, Obama considers the effectiveness of a personal tutor. You can get some rather useful results using tools that require practically no intelligence at all.

    For instance, with some math problems I’ve occasionally realized I was making a mistake somewhere, but couldn’t track down where it was. Then I searched for an online equation solver, feeding it every step of my solution. When I hit a step where I’d transformed the equation into a form that caused the solver to output a different end result than before, I knew where the mistake was. That might have actually been a faster way to proceed than with a human tutor – I remember the times in school when I asked a teacher for help, and my mistake was so simple that it took a long while to spot it.

    Of course, this isn’t going to be of much use in situations where you’re completely stumped and not just looking for a missing minus sign somewhere. But I wonder if one couldn’t come up with something for that… of course, the number of problem domains that are straightforward enough for such help are limited in number. Math, physics? Sure. Literary criticism? Out of luck there.

  4. Bob Mottram

    For a moment there I thought that Obama actually had mentioned AI specifically. By “learning software” he probably just means software used in education. This type of stuff has been around for a couple of decades, and is not necessarily anything to do with AI.

    An AI which was a kind of personal tutor in the grand sense wouldn’t necessarily need to be an AGI. It could be following a script, with only limited tolerance of deviations around it.

  5. anon

    During the Space Race, U.S. used as much as 10% of GDP on NASA.

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