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Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence

July 22, 2016

This essay, written by Mercatus Center senior fellow Adam Thierer and program manager Andrea Castillo, argues in favor of a “permissionless innovation” policy for government regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

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This essay, written by Mercatus Center senior fellow Adam Thierer and program manager Andrea Castillo, argues in favor of a “permissionless innovation” policy for government regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, responding to a request from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Government regulators should stay out of the way of innovation, unless actual harm to consumers exists, Thierer and Castillo write.

Permissionless innovation refers to the idea that ‘experimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default,’” Thierer and Castillo wrote. “Unless a compelling case can be made that a new invention will bring serious harm to society, innovation should be allowed to continue unabated and problems, if they develop at all, can be addressed later.’ Policymakers may be tempted to preemptively restrict AI technologies out of an abundance of caution for the perceived risks these new innovations might seem to pose. However, an examination of the history of US technology policy demonstrates that these concerns can be adequately addressed without quashing a potentially revolutionary new industry.

Government regulators are not useless, Thierer and Castillo write, but should ensure they fully understand the consequences of acting.

“This does not mean there is no role for government as it pertains to AI technologies, but it does mean that policymakers should first seek out less restrictive remedies to complex social and economic problems before resorting to top-down proposals that are preemptive and proscriptive,” Thierer and Castillo wrote. “Policymakers must carefully ensure they have a full understanding of the boundaries and promises of all of the technologies they address. Many AI technologies pose little or no risks to safety, fair market competition, or consumer welfare. These applications should not be stymied due to an inappropriate regulatory scheme that seeks to address an entirely separate technology. They should be distinguished and exempted from regulations as appropriate.”

Author
Adam Thierer (athierer@mercatus.gmu.edu) is a senior research fellow with the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.