Legislative Report 1/22/2022 - Artificial Intelligence: Opportunity and Risk


Jeopardy host: In the category Technology, systems (usually software) capable of perceiving an environment through data acquisition and then processing and interpreting the derived information to take action or imitate intelligent behavior given a specified goal.

Watson: What is Artificial Intelligence?


Many years ago, I went through a period of reading Isaac Asimov’s novels about robots, the kind that exhibited human functions, what we would call androids today. His first robot novel I, Robot was a collection of short stories about robots with human-like personalities that performed various jobs, like childcare for example.  Robots and androids have been a staple of literature from ancient times (search “Robots in Literature”), and most of us are familiar with those of the Star Wars anthology. We aren’t quite at the C3-PO stage yet, but the artificial intelligence that the robots of science fiction exhibited has become a reality with the development of high-powered computers today.


We are surrounded by artificial intelligence, also known as “AI”, whether we recognize it or not.  The first AI algorithm was created and used successfully to master the game of checkers in 1956 by Dartmouth scholars. Fast forward to 2011 and IBM’s supercomputer, dubbed “Watson”, competed against two Jeopardy champions, and won. The dialog at the top of this column did not actually take place, but it serves to define what AI is. Today we use AI to guide us to destinations, predict the weather, translate languages, for facial recognition, and many other applications. AI is used for scientific research, medical diagnoses, autonomous vehicles, and more; and the government, including the Defense Department, funds advanced research in AI.  AI is the source of many benefits, but it can also pose a risk if it is used improperly.  For example, ubiquitous use of facial recognition threatens our expectations of personal privacy. And systems that determine eligibility for services can have built in biases.


Already, AI is creating a wave of economic growth in Vermont with high-paying jobs in this field. The legislature recognizes both the economic potential and the potential for abuse associated with AI development and use.  Act 137 of 2018 created an Artificial Intelligence Task Force to investigate the field of artificial intelligence in the State and make recommendations on the responsible growth of Vermont’s emerging technology markets, the use of artificial intelligence in State government, and State regulation of the artificial intelligence field. The task force’s report was issued in January 2020 and can be found at https://legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Legislative-Reports/Artificial-Intelligence-Task-Force-Final-Report-1.15.2020.pdf


The report states that "there is in fact a role for local and state action, especially where national and international action is not occurring. Large scale technological change makes states rivals for the economic rewards, [whereas] inaction leaves states behind. States can become leaders in crafting appropriate responses to technological change that eventually produces policy and action around the country."


Members of my committee, Energy and Technology, worked on a bill, H.410, over the summer that implements some of the recommendations of the Task Force, and we voted it out of committee last week. It creates an AI Commission under the auspices of the Agency of Digital Services, and requires a survey of all software applications purchased, developed, or used by State agencies or departments. We want to know if any applications use AI, how it is used, and the potential impacts on Vermont citizens. The bill is awaiting action by the Appropriations Committee and will eventually be voted on by the full House.


As always, I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238). 

Legislative Report 1/8/2022 - New legislative session looks ahead


On Tuesday, January 4, the legislature returned to Montpelier in person for the second half of the biennium.  In a floor session that lasted about 45 minutes, resolutions were passed to allow the House and Senate to meet and conduct business remotely until January 18 because of the rising number of COVID cases due to the much more contagious omicron variant. The intent of the legislature is to re-evaluate the situation mid-month to determine whether it will be ok to return in-person. As we begin the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to remain vigilant to prevent its spread as much as possible.

But legislative work must be done. On Wednesday Governor Scott delivered his State of the State address to the Legislature.  He laid out his priorities to increase housing, develop Vermont’s workforce, and use the federal assistance that the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Act.  His priorities match well with the priorities of the Democratic led Legislature, which is to help families, businesses and our economy thrive. Building on the work we accomplished in 2021, we’re ready to hammer out detailed proposals — and make significant investments — that make a real difference for Vermonters.

This will include taking smart, strategic action on climate. The Vermont Climate Council, created by the Global Warming Solutions Act passed last year, has delivered its report with recommendations on steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon through agricultural and forestry land management practices, and adapt our infrastructure to the effects of climate change, and to accomplish these tasks with an eye toward racial and social equity.  

We plan to resolve our pension crisis in a way that’s fair to teachers, state employees and taxpayers; create greater equity in the way we fund our schools; increase access to healthcare, mental health and substance abuse treatment; and address many other critical issues as the session moves into high gear.

While unemployment has again fallen to pre-pandemic levels, there are thousands of jobs still waiting to be filled.  This workforce problem affects all areas of the economy, including restaurants, retail, nursing, education, broadband, and transportation among others. While we try to grow our workforce from within the state, our future also depends on attracting new workers into Vermont. A lack of affordable housing and available childcare opportunities are major stumbling blocks to young families who would like to become part of the Vermont community. The investments in housing and childcare we made in last year’s budget will get more attention this year.

After two strenuous years of the pandemic, we must continue to do all we can to end it.  Vaccines are the primary weapon in our arsenal.  Wearing masks in indoor public places helps prevent the spread. Being cautious in our interactions with others protects us and them.  We’re all in this together and have to take care of each other. As always, I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238).