The Department of Energy launched a new office Tuesday to coordinate research on artificial intelligence that could be used in the energy, defense and health sectors for years.
The announcement came just hours before a top DOE official was scheduled to testify on AI on Capitol Hill.
President Joe Biden instructed DOE to establish the office as part of an executive order on AI in late October, which the White House called the “most sweeping actions ever taken to protect Americans from the potential risks of AI systems.”
White House and AI experts say the technology poses serious risks for American privacy, misinformation and job availability. But those experts also tout the potential benefits. Different AI products can be used to slash emissions in the energy and utility sectors, and AI-run drones can be used to more quickly assess infrastructure damaged in extreme weather.
AI, which jumped to the national spotlight recently with free tools like ChatGPT, describes a broad set of products that learn data and generate novel content, in some cases even refining and improving results over time.
“We are preparing to ensure that, as new technologies emerge, the United States leads the way in exploring those frontiers,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
Biden’s executive order tasked the office with leading the “development of AI and other critical and emerging technologies” to address “climate-related risks, enable clean-energy deployment (including addressing delays in permitting reviews), and enhance grid reliability and resilience.”
In the DOE release Tuesday, the department said the office will lead work on AI, biotechnology, quantum computing and semiconductors. For decades, the 17 DOE national labs have led global research on supercomputing and many other sensitive areas. The Los Alamos National Laboratory, for instance, was created to participate in the Manhattan Project, which ultimately developed the first nuclear weapons.
The executive order instructs DOE to publish a report outlining AI’s potential applications for energy markets, the electricity grid, climate change and permitting.
Helena Fu, director of critical and emerging technology at DOE, will lead the new office. She’s also now DOE’s chief artificial intelligence officer.
Fu was scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
Jeannie Salo, vice president of government relations at Schneider Electric, said DOE has a “clear role” in developing new AI.
“The federal government is not only one of the world’s largest consumers of energy but it can serve as an enabler of more rapid deployment of AI and other innovative tech to optimize energy use in both the public and private sectors,” said Salo in an email. “We can already witness the immense potential and benefits with AI that’s deployed to manage virtual power plants and other complex energy ecosystems.”
Schneider produces a range of software and electrical panels, including tools for residential electricity, data center electricity and grid connection.