The FCC recently held a forum on AI and Machine Learning in Washington, DC to showcase how this technology benefits consumers and better understand its impact on the communications marketplace. Spearheaded by Chairman Ajit Pai, the forum brought together leaders in the industry to discuss the impact and promise of AI for communications consumers and the industry as a whole. Noting that this was a forum only for “discussion and demonstration,” Chairman Pai made clear that the agency was not using this forum as a jumping off point for new regulations.

It is not about the FCC dipping its toes in the regulatory waters. These are emerging technologies.  And when dealing with emerging technologies, I believe that one of the foundational principles for government should be regulatory humility.

FCC Chairman Pai on AI and Machine Learning

As we have recently reported, a growing number of U.S. federal agencies are examining AI to better understand the benefits of this technology and the emerging legal issues presented by the widespread adoption of AI across industries. Consistent with the approach taken recently by the FTC, Chairman Pai made it clear that this forum was not an attempt to regulate AI, rather this was a learning opportunity for his agency to better understand how AI development intersects with the communications industry. Noting that the FCC is smart enough to exercise “regulatory humility” in times like this, the Chairman emphasized the need for regulators to better understand the technology, and reaffirmed that premature regulation would “foreclose pathways to innovation.”

Chairman Pai also noted the influence and impact of AI on communications technology. Specifically, he pointed to the evolution of antennas. Chairman Pai expressed that the advancement in technology that is “today’s radios are agile in terms of power, frequency and even modulation” compared to their predecessors. The Chairman remarked that the FCC wants “to understand how AI can enable individual radios to make much more efficient use of spectrum—all without human intervention.” Commissioner Carr, a champion of 5G, echoed the importance of building and upgrading wireless networks to 5G in order unlock capacity and innovation in the AI space. Commissioner Rosenworcel asserted that AI can help create spectrum efficiency and network resiliency and suggested that advisory councils (such as the Technology Advisory Council and the Broadband Deployment Advisory Council) should take a close look at how AI can shape these two areas.

Forum participants provided ample evidence of the many benefits of AI in the communications market. For example, Chairman Pai noted that Microsoft has developed an app that uses AI and deep-learning tools to narrate the visual world –describing nearby people or objects with spoken audio for those with visual impairments. The forum also included an opportunity for participants to experience some innovative AI projects from several participating vendors. Vendors that demonstrating new, exciting projects in the AI included: Aira, Conversa, EyeLogic., IBM, Kinectica, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Podimetrics, Qualcomm, Verizon.

Panelists agreed that it was simply too early to begin regulating most AI technologies. Professor Subbarao Kambhampati noted that once technologies become mainstream, then is it reasonable to consider some regulation. Regulating a relatively unknown technology too early will be problematic and stifle innovation.

Professor Kambhampati, a professor from Arizona State University and former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, provided the keynote address for the forum by giving a brief overview of the history of AI, the current state of AI, and some future and realized risks. The forum also included two panels of leaders from academia, policy and industry. Among the many issues discussed, panelists emphasized the importance of making AI accessible to everyone, known as the democratization of AI, and the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Overall, the FCC is embracing the role that AI plays in communications and the role AI will play in the future. This forum was a signpost that the Commission will continue to stay engaged with the issues and implications of AI. Accordingly, while regulators are not interested in creating new AI regulations, it is clear that the FCC is now one of several federal agencies closely watching AI as the technology continues to grow and expand its impact in the communications industry.