Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., co-chair of the House AI Caucus, said last week that artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the potential to create “tremendous public good,” but also warned of risks the technology poses including job losses.

Speaking on July 24 at an event organized by Politico, McNerney said AI could be particularly useful in the healthcare technology field. “If you look at healthcare in particular, and the ability to make better diagnoses,” the technology offers the potential for “tremendous good,” the congressman said.

He was equally hopeful about the benefits AI could have for precision farming, and the energy sector in order to “see how the energy is flowing . . . to make sure we don’t use too much.” Both of those examples, he indicated, illuminate the potential for AI to deal with dangers posed by climate change.

“But there are risks” to the AI-driven technologies, including “job displacements,” Rep. McNerney said. “If we do it correctly, we can create more [job] opportunities than displacements,” he offered.

On the policy front, McNerney said there is a “tremendous need for government leadership in artificial intelligence,” including in the area of workforce development. “We need to devote resources [to AI] that are not out there yet,” he said, and added that the House AI caucus needs to continue “educating members of Congress on what it means.” He also suggested the Federal government needs to do more to direct funding to universities to develop AI tech.

Rep. McNerney pitched the attributes of the AI in Government Act (HR 2575) – a bill he introduced in May that still hasn’t made it out of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The bill would, among other steps, establish an AI Center of Excellence within the General Services Administration (GSA) to advise and promote Federal government efforts in developing “innovative uses of artificial intelligence to benefit the public,” and “improve cohesion and competency” in the use of AI.

The legislation also would task the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with issuing a memorandum to Federal agencies on AI governance approaches, and agencies would then file their own AI plans with OMB. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would be required to identify key skills and competencies for positions related to AI, and “establish an occupational series, or revise an existing job series” to include positions whose primary duties relate to AI.

Rep. McNerney said the bill also would create an advisory board “to look at the data that is out there,” develop standards for data formatting, and for protection of personal information.

Asked when the bill might see further action in the House, Rep. McNerney said he expects House Oversight to hold hearings on the measure in September. “I think there is a really good chance we will see real action, real legislative advancement,” he said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.