As modern life continues to revolve more and more around technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have quietly assumed a major role in shaping how we interact and live within the digital world. Machine learning and AI algorithms operate behind the scenes of our social media platforms and news feeds, online shopping carts and Netflix, silently organizing what we see and interact with. As these programs have grown more sophisticated and expansive in their application, the societal (and technical) implications of them require exploration and consideration. For example, the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee (HFSC) Task Force on Artificial Intelligence continues to examine how AI and machine learning are impacting social justice and equality in financial services markets, holding a hearing this month titled “Beyond I, Robot: Ethics, Artificial Intelligence, and the Digital Age.” As HSFC Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) explained, the goal of the task force and such hearings, including one previously on May 21, is to “make sure policy can keep up with the changes to our financial services, and do its part to make sure technology is not being used to discriminate or exacerbate existing biases under the guise of innovation.”

AI and machine learning based programs are already used in a variety of ways, including in consumer services to determine and predict credit worthiness and loan risk, to assess home values, to detect online fraud and by insurance providers to assess liability and risk, each use bringing not only its own set of technological and social advances but also its own set of concerns, including about bias, equity and fairness, among other things. Yet despite their pervasive use in the digital world, many people are confused as to what machine learning and AI actually are. Meanwhile, government IP offices, courts and legislatures face novel questions of how to handle these new software applications as businesses seek to protect these valuable intellectual property assets.