2016: Artificial Intelligence Comes to Aspen

December 30, 2016  • Communications and Society Program

As 2016 comes to a close, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program invites you to join us as we celebrate and reflect over an exciting year marked by thoughtful, constructive discussions on a range of issues. The following “2016 Year In Review” series offers highlights from the various programs as well as insight into 2017 programming. For more information, please  visit our homepage and or follow us on Twitter or Facebook

Artificial intelligent technologies are widespread. From algorithmic newsfeeds to the Presidential election to self-driving cars, AI systems are transforming various aspects of our daily lives. These technologies make possible innovations in medical research, transportation, healthcare, criminal justice and urban planning. Proponents applaud its disruptive nature, which has ushered in new markets and increased efficiencies across industries worldwide. Yet, for all of its promises, the long-term impact of AI technologies remains generally unknown. Critics of AI caution against black-box systems that rely on opaque techniques, such as machine learning or neural networks, and are informed by big data. Moreover, critics perceive a lack of accountability and oversight of these systems, exacerbating their concerns. Researchers Crawford and Calo call for the need of a social-systems analysis of AI in order “to assess the impact of technologies on their social, cultural and political settings.”  

 In August 2016, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program convened its inaugural Roundtable on Artificial Intelligence to begin to address such questions. We asked:  How will these artificially intelligent technologies impact our society, our economies, our governments and our well-being? Twenty-two leaders and experts from industry, non-profits and academia explored the intersection of AI technologies and society, economics, ethics and regulation. Participants traversed topics from self-driving cars to AI’s impact on journalism and questions related to work displacement & income inequality. The discussions raised important issues, highlighted complexities unique to AI and made clear that we “stand at an inflection point” in its development and future governance. The final report, which covers the conversation in detail, will be available in early 2017. Please check back to learn how to receive your copy or visit   

 As we prepare for 2017, the Communication and Society Program will continue its inquiry into the future of AI. 2016 took stock of the realities of AI on the ground. 2017 will expand further, challenging our notions of how these technologies may impact our realities while reimagining our future as AI evolves.