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NIU’s David Gunkel contributes to congressional effort for national AI strategy

January 11, 2021

David Gunkel

NIU Communication Professor David Gunkel has been working with political leaders to help Congress develop a national strategy on artificial intelligence (AI).

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., and former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, recently co-authored legislation laying the foundation for a national artificial intelligence strategy. The nonbinding resolution was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives in December.

“American ongoing and future leadership in AI will be based on today’s policies and investments. We need a real and actionable comprehensive plan, as this resolution calls for, to engage all levers of national power to create and preserve American AI superiority,” Kelly said in a September press release. “I’m glad to have so many colleagues, experts and advocates standing with us in this call for a comprehensive national AI strategy.”

Gunkel was among the national experts who contributed important perspectives as the resolution was being developed.

Rep. Kelly, an NIU alumna, had reached out to NIU seeking faculty expertise on the topic. Gunkel was tapped for his participation, facilitated by Anna Quider, NIU’s assistant vice president for federal relations. Gunkel is known internationally as an expert in the study of information and communication technology with a focus on ethics, and he is author of three books on artificial intelligence.

“The goal is to foster future innovation, protect the rights of U.S. citizens and create a policy environment that is understood and able to be utilized by all the players,” Gunkel said. “That requires striking the right balance between innovation and intelligent regulation. If we overregulate, we might curtail innovation. If underregulate, we might expose the American public to hazards.”

In crafting the resolution, Reps. Kelly and Hurd worked in concert with the Bipartisan Policy Center, which convened advisory groups with AI experts from the likes of MIT, Stanford University, Google, Amazon, Mozilla, Ford Motors and NIU.

Gunkel traveled to Washington, D.C., for one such gathering in February 2020. He advocated for research funding on the social implications of emerging technology, open access to research documents and materials, and education in AI across the curriculum in high schools and public universities to increase public competency.

“I argued any legislation needs to be done in a way that empowers the American people to decide their own fate with regards to technology, and that means having an educated electorate,” Gunkel said. “It’s public institutions like NIU that would have the greatest reach.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center used the information gathered in its forums to develop white papers (reviewed by advisory group participants) on the topics of AI workforce, national securityresearch and development and ethics. Those papers helped form the basis of the nonbinding resolution.

In addition to the U.S. House, the resolution received support from across the tech community, including IBM, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Equal AI, Nvidia, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and the Bipartisan Policy Center Action, among others.

“This is the beginning of a process,” Gunkel said. “It’s going to be several years before we see legislation that moves in the direction of regulation.

“I thought it was quite insightful for Rep. Kelly to get Illinois involved in this early on,” he added. “We aren’t Silicon Valley, and we have a different perspective to bring to the table. Additionally, having higher education institutions involved is crucial.”