Washington Moves To Make Sensitive Private Data Available For “Minority Report”-Style AI Research

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Earlier this week, the investigative journalism outfit ProPublica published a story using data gleaned from the tax returns of America’s richest individuals to determine exactly how much each of them paid in tax vs. the amount by which their wealth increased in a given year, a number the reporters described as their “true tax” rate.

Needless to say, the story inspired intense conversation online, where rival media organizations were quick to assume that the data was somehow “leaked” to PP. ProPublica was vague in its report, refusing to say or even hint at how it obtained the data, which led one reporter to wonder whether it might have been handed off to PP by academic researchers. It’s also worth mentioning that leaking the tax data from inside the IRS would constitute a major federal crime (obtaining it via a third party who had been given the data for some legitimate purpose).

But one thread from Breitbart’s John Carney caught our attention due to his observation that the media might be jumping to conclusions. In his estimation, Carney said, it’s possible that the data could have been released to academics as part of an officially sanctioned research project gone awry.

Carney wonders: how anonymized can personal data be for certain high-profile individuals like billionaires?

Well, while America ponders the answer to that, WSJ reports that the Biden Administration is launching an initiative Thursday aiming at making sensitive data like this much more easily accessible to researchers. In fact, the new portal envisioned by the administration would also research create an opportunity to improve the ability of US scientists to review the data.

“This is a moment that is calling us to be strengthening our speed and scale” when it comes to advances in AI technology, said National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan: “It is also calling us to make sure that innovation is everywhere,” they told WSJ.

America is racing against China to dominate the race for AI, and the government is desperately searching for anything that might give the US an edge. Now, the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource Task Force, a group of 12 members from academia, government, and industry, is reportedly drafting a strategy for potentially giving researchers access to stores of data about Americans, from demographics to health and driving habits.

The task force was first authorized by Congress last year as part of a sweeping law designed to revamp the governments

One member of the task force told WSJ that researchers need access to this data in order to “investigate a lot of their really great ideas in AI.”

Lynne Parker, assistant director of artificial intelligence at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the task force announced Thursday would aim to give Congress a road map for creating a common research infrastructure the government could offer to outsiders.

“In order to investigate a lot of their really great ideas in AI, they need access to powerful computing infrastructure and they need access to data,” she said. Many researchers, particularly in academia, “simply don’t have access to these computational resources and data, and this is hampering innovation.”

One example: The Transportation Department has access to a set of data gathered from vehicle sensors about how people drive, said Erwin Gianchandani, senior adviser at the National Science Foundation and co-chair of the new AI task force.

“Because you have very sensitive data about individuals, there are challenges in being able to make that data available to the broader research community,” he said. On the other hand, if researchers could get access, they could develop innovations designed to make driving safer.

WSJ mentioned that data gathered from police vehicle sensors could be among the data shared, along with “sensitive data” gleaned from medical records and other data sets. The task force is due to issue reports on its research in May and November of next year.

We can’t help but wonder what this type of “AI” research will help researchers figure out: will they use it to try and determine individuals who are likely (or even virtually guaranteed) to commit crimes like in “Minority Report.”





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