Saturday, March 28, 2009

Advanced AI in Government

Many suboptimal decisions by political leaders are based upon the sheer vastness of the data and analysis pertaining thereto. How advanced AI could help.
Advanced AI in government
It continually amazes me how little discussion of how real, advanced forms of AI might be used in specific applications to achieve great benefits for humanity.

Let's focus on one specific scenario for advanced AI in the sphere of government.

However, let's be real here, I don't mean in a position of "leadership". When discussions of this kind are enjoined, often many instantly and in my view quite incorrectly assume that AI of "greater-than-human" intelligence will simply be handed the reins, take over, as it were. This seems deeply unlikely, for the following reasons:

1. Human beings want to be led by other human beings, not by technology. This is a deep thread of human nature; even if an advanced AI were nominally "better" at leadership, this would still be true, I believe.

2. Even if humans were to get past the obstacle above, if an advanced AI were to take the reins of leadership, and messed up in one way or another, made one or more serious mistakes, who's to blame? Interestingly, not the advanced AI - it would be the manufacturer that is on the hook. The buck will not stop with a technology product - it will stop with human beings.

3. If an advanced AI were to take over the reins of leadership, say become The President, think about it - that gives incredible power to the corporation manufacturing that advanced AI, which most people would find a repellent notion, I would suggest.

For these and other reasons, advanced AI will not be in positions of leadership, elected positions in a democracy, if you will - even if they were nominally better than their human counterparts. So I would suggest setting aside those notions, at least for now.

However, there are still vast realms of value-add that advanced AI could render to support efficient, effective governmental operations. Let's focus on just one - regulation.

Currently, there are 150,000+ regulations on the books in the USA, and these grow by some 4,000 per year. Additionally, to understand these, one must also be aware of the body of legal decisions surrounding them, which are also huge.

There are a truly vast number of regulations, covering all manner of things, such as the environment, workplace safety, etc. Some 100,000 employees in about 60 federal agencies administer these regulations.

Estimates vary, but these regulations impose a cost of some $300 billion annually on the economy, mostly in the form of costs on businesses, not out of the federal budget per se.

Now, these regulations vary tremendously in their effectiveness. A good way to examine them is in terms of cost-benefit analysis, and when discussing regulations, a valuable metric here is "cost per life saved". Some regulations are very cheap - $100 per life saved. Some, massively expensive, up to millions of dollars per life saved. Although we can get idealistic and suggest that any regulation, even if it saves one life, is worth it, no matter what the cost, this can be countered by suggesting that in a world of limited resources, a very expensive regulation that in fact saves very few lives, if those costs were allocated to regulations that save many more lives, that is in fact worth doing. It would be equally unrealistic to suggest that all these regulations are worthless, and should simply be swept away.

However, objective rationalization of existing and proposed new regulations is eminently worthwhile.

Currently, the primary responsibility for determining the cost effectiveness of various proposed regulations falls the Office of Management and Budget, the OMB. They have a budget of about $50 million, and a staff of maybe 50 or 60. They can currently assess about a quarter of the annually proposed regulation, 1,000 of the 4,000, and they presumably focus on the bigger ones, of course.

When considering the effectiveness of not just the annually proposed, new regulations, but also the existing, massive body of regulations, and the cost-effectiveness of each one, and also the objective effectiveness of each one in terms of lives saved, species protected, whatever it is, I think we begin to enter an area that exceeds the ability of the human mind to analyze effectively and well.

Enter advanced AI.

What if you could retain, in your mind, the entire body of regulations on the books, all of the legal decisions surrounding those, with additional metadata with regards to total costs to implement, total lives saved, as well as potentially other important dimensions, say, locality and time.

No human mind can do this, of course - but an AI could, because of course, it's really just an advanced computer, and retaining and processing large datasets is one of their core strengths.

When looking at the political decision process, we often blame the "corruption" of lobbyists, politicians, etc. But really, I think most politicians want to make good decisions - however, the objectivity, comprehensiveness, and consistency of the information and resulting analysis that they receive impedes good decision-making. This gap is what is exploited by lobbyists and other special interests toward their own ends.

This advanced AI application, it's just another application really, preferably within a human form factor as soon as technology allows, would work very similarly to the AI architecture I have already described.

Essentially, it's analysis, and the summarizations thereof that it would provide, would vary with the audience with which it is interacting. If it was the head of the OMB, it might be one, higher level of summarization, estimating costs over time for a proposed regulation, possibly by locale, possibly with rough estimates of legal suits that may result, based on other, similar regulations.

However, human domain experts could "drill down" with this AI - exploring each analysis result, each "assumption, all the way down to the raw data, if they so chose - individual legal rulings, specific costs, lives saved, etc.

We come back to this paradigm of advanced AI as "liaison" between human beings and what we would recognize as functional analysis software today. Very important concept, one that I think will provide almost unlimited value in terms of real, live AI potentialities.

This is just one example, of rationalizing the complex welter of government regulations, keeping the good ones, getting rid of the chaff - and possibly saving billions and billions in the process.

There are many, many more examples like this, that we could name:
1. Rationalizing investments in infrastructure, the cost-benefit analysis decisions there.
2. Investments in Research and Development.
3. The optimal way to preserve our remaining natural ecosystems (which can be considered a subset of regulations, perhaps)
4. Etc.

The point is, the sheer volume of data, the costs, lives, productivity enhancements, legal decisions, etc, are so vast that today, they necessarily must be split into literally thousands of individuals to analyze at all. And there, in an important sense, is the problem - having all of this data in one mind, being able to analyze it as one, integrated data set, there are huge advantages there, I'm sure all kinds of interesting insights and patterns could be discerned there.

But, no human can do this - but an advanced AI could, in principle. In this sense, this application could be "smarter-than-human" - but once again, we see that this is in order to assist human partners, to help them make good decisions. Each human interactant with this advanced AI would have different questions, different avenues they might want to explore. The head of OMB, or the President, for that matter, one set of perspectives. A congressman, another. A lawyer, yet another. An economist or government statistician, yet another.

All of these interactions would, in fact, help the advanced AI refine the analyses that it performs, to better assist the decision-making process and recommendations that all these humans make. It's a partnership, not a replacement paradigm, because many of these people aren't going away. Really, we're talking more about achieving much better results within an existing budgetary environment.

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