Partnership on AI Taps Obama Administration Tech Adviser as Director

An effort launched a year ago by big tech companies to address ethical and societal issues presented by the advancement of artificial intelligence has named as its first executive director a former top technology policy adviser in the Obama administration.

Terah Lyons (pictured above right), who led government initiatives to develop machine intelligence strategies, will head the Partnership on A.I. to Benefit People and Society, whose founding members include Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, IBM, Google and its 2014 acquisition DeepMind.

The Partnership on A.I. also announced 21 new members—joining 32 existing ones—including chipmaker Nvidia, nonprofit groups such as Amnesty International, and academic representatives such as the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington. The organization’s partners gathered in Berlin this week for its inaugural workshop to determine research themes.

On Tuesday, Lyons published a piece on Medium suggesting the A.I. horse has already left the barn as society races to catch up:

“That AI will have dramatic impacts is now considered inevitable; it is still largely unclear, however, how changes resulting from this technological revolution will manifest. There is uncertainty over whether the impacts of AI in certain instances will be positive or negative, or in what ways badly implemented AI or AI trained on poor data can result in discriminatory impacts for different groups of people — including in how it may bring harm to already marginalized populations.

“AI systems are widely deployed across most sectors, including in healthcare*, transportation, financial services, business, education, and public safety, where algorithms are making decisions about everything from medical diagnoses to the determination of auto insurance premiums and in criminal risk scoring. Our capability of measuring the consequences of these technologies, and the quality of the data that we feed them, is still immature; more work is also required to improve these systems to best address possible unintended consequences and to minimize ancillary harm.”

*[Editor’s note: Xconomy is delving into the topic of A.I. in healthcare at events on both coasts next month. Check out details of our Boston and Seattle Healthcare + A.I. events.]

Lyons says we’re in a critical moment as A.I. technologies advance at a rapid rate, and the policies and laws governing them are formed.

Since leaving government in March, Lyons was a tech policy fellow at Mozilla, where she has continued working on these “global projects that will require a cross-sector, cross-border effort over the coming years.”

As she takes the helm of the Partnership on A.I., Lyons will be tasked with continuing to set up the organization’s governance structure—including the establishment of a steering committee.

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