Cantwell Calls for AI Bill to Prepare Workers for Jobs of the Future

August 23, 2023

Seattle AI forum showcases how AI ventures are innovating small businesses, transportation safety and disaster response

 

SEATTLE, Wash. – On Monday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, hosted a “Future of AI” forum and panel discussion about how innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) are critical to tackling challenges like climate change and natural disasters, the need to build and train a skilled workforce and how Congress can ensure AI is deployed safely and equitably. The panel featured the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Dr. Laurie Locascio, AI industry leaders from Microsoft and Amazon, representatives from the University of Washington, Washington State University, Allen Institute for AI and the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

“We're here because artificial intelligence and things like quantum computing are game changers. They have the potential to help us solve pressing global challenges like climate change, hunger, poverty, disease and are pivotal to our competitiveness for the future,” said Sen. Cantwell in her opening remarks. 

“I don’t think Americans have ever shied away from innovation and we shouldn’t today, so let’s embrace the opportunities before us and let’s talk about what we need to do to make America critically successful in this technology and maintain our leadership,” Sen. Cantwell added.


As AI innovation rapidly increases, transforming the tech economy, the panel highlighted the growing demand for skilled workers. Sen. Cantwell called for a new “AI Bill” to prepare workers for the coming changes, based on the successful GI Bill.

“I…think about World War II where the women had to go in the factories and keep [up] U.S. production,” said Sen. Cantwell. “That was a big transformation, or the transformation when the guys came home from World War II, and everybody said, ‘what's the economy of the future going to be?’ And we gave them the GI Bill, and they created it.”

“So now instead of a GI Bill, we need an AI education bill. We need a bill that says how do we educate for the future, given the impacts of AI? How do we offer the training and the skill set so people can adapt to now in their workplace? And how can we get the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor to work together to transform the skill level of the workforce that we need for the Information Age and [the] AI revolution that's going to happen?”

Later, Sen. Cantwell added: “I want at least one million people retrained and skilled, particularly in apprentice programs because that way you get to earn and learn. And I think the workers should be empowered with AI tools now, [as] part of that apprenticeship so their job is more effective and productive.”

As chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Sen. Cantwell will oversee legislation affecting the AI industry. Last year, Sen. Cantwell was a lead architect and spearheaded the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, one of the largest five-year federal research and development investments in U.S. history. The CHIPS and Science Act also directs the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation to identify and invest in ten key technology focus areas, including artificial intelligence. Sen. Cantwell also introduced the bipartisan FUTURE of AI Act, which established the National AI Advisory Committee (NAIAC).

The discussion panel included:

  • Laurie Locascio, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, Director National Institute for Standards and Technology;
  • Ashley Llorens, Vice President, Distinguished Scientist & Managing Director, Microsoft Research Outreach, member of the National AI Advisory Committee;
  • Swami Sivasubramanian, Vice President of Machine Learning, Amazon Web Services, member of the National AI Advisory Committee;
  • Ryan Calo, Lane Powell and D. Wayne Gittinger Professor, University of Washington School of Law, co-director, UW Tech Policy Lab, and co-founder, UW Center for an Informed Public;
  • Manoj Karkee, Professor, Washington State University, Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems;
  • Ali Farhadi, CEO, Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence; and
  • Cherika Carter, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO

 

Showcasing the promise AI holds for innovation and jobs, the forum featured AI ventures from nearly a dozen regional small businesses and university programs that demonstrated how AI is currently being used to better their industries.

For example, Seattle-based company Metrolla showed Sen. Cantwell how it employs machine vision to monitor interactions between pedestrians and traffic. The technology is used in highway construction zones to protect workers.  

For farmers and the agriculture industries, Washington State University’s AgAID Institute showcased how AI can track and analyze factors influencing crop yields. Carbon Robotics also attended and showed how their LaserWeeder product can make crops healthier with precision weed control.

“When you think about all the AI applications in what I would call precision agriculture are just ways to drive efficiency and competitiveness for U.S. growers. This is critically important in a changing climate environment where agriculture is becoming more challenging. And something as important as water AI can help our farmers know exactly how much water to use on every single acre. So it's very exciting to see the successes of those companies,” Sen. Cantwell said.