Commentary

Artificial intelligence deserves summer study

A poll conducted last month by Reuters found that 61% of respondents believe that AI technology is dangerous for the future of humanity. (Getty Images)

School’s out for the summer but the learning is never truly over. Nor is the legislating, even after the General Assembly adjourned in the wee morning hours of April 28th (much like the collegiate equivalent of finishing the term paper in the middle of the night to make the deadline). 

Unlike the traditional expectations of pupils in academia, however, the state legislature returns over the summer to study, review, research, and learn more about special topics relevant to their work.  

This practice makes the process of legislating in Indiana both more efficient and also more effective. Per state statutes, our legislature meets 3-4 months of the year, making it a moderately professionalized institution according to the National Conference of State Legislature. (For comparison, a “highly professionalized” legislature like California’s meets 8-10 months while Wyoming’s “least professionalized” legislature is limited to 40 days but has ended in just 25 days in recent years). 

For the Indiana General Assembly, making policies and decisions that are thorough and intentional in the span of 90-120 days is difficult particularly on newer issues with which legislators may be less familiar or older issues with newer information, data, and potential. Thus, the summer study sessions provide an opportunity for lawmakers to dedicate their time and focus in preparation for the next legislative session.

Upcoming topics

This year, the Legislative Council (responsible for the creation of summer study sessions) tasked several committees to focus on a variety of topics impacting policy in the state, including many regularly appearing items, such as the housing shortage, legalization of marijuana, rising healthcare costs, and taxes. While all these subjects are surely deserving of more in depth analysis, most salient (and arguably most curious) is Artificial Intelligence.

AI has recently made national headlines in its seemingly effortless ability to replicate (and improve) the work of humans. Some have cautiously asked whether it is a threat to humanity or will steal your job while others marvel at its ability to seemingly perfect human output. Thorough academic research on the subject matter remains relatively sparse, but the concept is far from new. Its applications in engineering have existed for decades, inspiring a professor to pin “Where’s the AI?” in which he prophetically predicted the evolution of the science, noting simply that AI is effective only when it can appropriately apply the knowledge already acquiesced. 

Artificial intelligence is actually a great example of a salient political topic in which specific knowledge and information for individuals may be low but attitudes and opinions are quite high. Having a strong opinion does not require complete and comprehensive information. Political sophistication, or having a consistent set of beliefs predicated on knowledge that influence attitudes, may be the democratic ideal of inspiration, but research suggests that limited information can be effective in molding political decisions.

Differing thoughts

A poll conducted last month by Reuters found that 61% of respondents believe that AI technology is dangerous for the future of humanity. It is a strong but almost paradoxical opinion when coupled with Pew Research Center data from April that reported 54% of Americans thought it would have no impact or minor impact on their lives in the workplace. Though these positions could potentially be reconciled, the conflicting reports highlight the challenges in our understanding of AI and our attitudes towards it.

Congress has already begun holding hearings to investigate this technology more, with Senators questioning CEOs and leaders in the field to learn more about AI’s potential impact, its opportunities and its threats. Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledged the complications it poses. A key IBM executive summarized the interest for government to be proactive and intentional in its policy, noting “while AI may be having its moment, the moment for government to play a role has not passed us by.”

Too often, it feels as though we are left to legislate in a frenetic haze, quickly making judgements and evaluations after a crisis with an emphasis on speed. Our legislative process and timeframe only heightens the need for expediency, as lawmakers work tirelessly in a short period of time on policies that can have a significant impact on our lives.

Much like an academic calendar, the work is compressed into a few short months (and sometimes years) while the impact can last a lifetime. Dedicating more time to learning about AI in an effort to understand its application and implications better is surely a topic worthy of summer study.

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Laura Merrifield Wilson
Laura Merrifield Wilson

Laura Merrifield Wilson, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Indianapolis. She specializes in the study of political behavior, state and local government, and campaigns and elections. She earned her PhD, MA, and MPA from the University of Alabama and her MA and AB Honors from Ohio University. She is a regular political commentator and analyst.

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