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Morgantown AI Conference guests asks who will lead, machine or man?

By Esteban Fernandez, Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A single question vexed business leaders, political officials and educators Wednesday at the Focus Forward Conference.

“What we’re all trying to figure out is, is it going to run our lives,” Gayle Manchin, co-founder of the Focus Forward conference, said. “Or, are we going to run it? Is it going to be a combination somewhere in between?”

Over 500 guests registered for Focus Forward, which was held at the Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place to try and wrangle the topic. The conference, in its sixth year, was hosted by the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. This year’s theme was West Virginia’s digital destiny, and examined the role AI will play across various aspects of society.

Manchin, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, said the big conversation right now is AI. Manchin said the legislature passes policies each year that affect education and the workforce, so keeping up with the latest conversations around digital workforce development, AI cybersecurity and others is important. The conference provided a place for experts on the subject to mingle, exchange ideas and network.

The answer to the question at the heart of each conversation around AI depends on the industry it is a part of, Manchin said. For example, within the health care industry AI can be a very important component in terms of research for new surgeries, implants or pharmaceuticals.

“This digital component is going to have a big impact and it will replace jobs,” Manchin said. “So, when it replaces those jobs, what are the next jobs that take over? All of that is just critical discussion.”

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