In 2020, I hope the AI community will grapple with issues of fairness in ways that tangibly and directly benefit disadvantaged populations.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about fairness and transparency in our algorithms, and this is essential work. But developing software tools that have a tangible impact is where the rubber meets the road. AI systems designed to improve people’s lives could help solve some of society’s major challenges.

Imagine what it’s like to use a smartphone navigation app in a wheelchair — only to encounter a stairway along the route. Even the best navigation app poses major challenges and risks if users can’t customize the route to avoid insurmountable obstacles.

Technology exists to support people with limited mobility, including AccessMap, a project of the University of Washington’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology. But we could do so much more. Thankfully, we are living in a time when we have the means to do it at our fingertips.

Accessibility, education, homelessness, human trafficking — AI could have a major positive impact on people’s quality of life in these areas and others. So far, we’ve only scratched the surface. Let’s dig deep in the coming year.

Oren Etzioni is chief executive of the Allen Institute for AI, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington, and a partner at Madrona Venture Group.


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