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President Biden Issues Executive Order for AI Oversight

On Monday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order covering a wide range of topics related to artificial intelligence, paving the way for new government regulations and funding.

The 111-page order covers multiple facets of AI and areas of concern or development, including civil rights, cybersecurity, discrimination, global competition, and a push for establishing federal AI jobs.

A senior White House official, who wished to remain anonymous, reportedly told NBC News that the potential uses of AI are so vast that effective regulations must cover a lot of ground. He also underscored the need for “significant bipartisan legislation.”

“AI policy is like running into a decathlon, and there’s 10 different events here, and we don’t have the luxury of just picking ‘we’re just going to do safety’ or ‘we’re just going to do equity’ or ‘we’re just going to do privacy.’ You have to do all of these things.”

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The order expands on a July nonbinding agreement between seven of the most prominent U.S. technology companies developing AI. The agreement required the companies to hire outside experts to identify weaknesses in their systems. The government can legally require companies to disclose the results of those safety tests under the Defense Production Act.

The Department of Commerce will also be required to develop guidelines for properly “watermarking” AI content, such as “deepfake” videos and ChatGPT-generated essays.

In an interview with NBC News, the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence co-director Fei-Fei Li stressed the importance of government funding for AI to solve society’s pressing issues.

“The public sector holds a unique opportunity in terms of data and interdisciplinary talent to cure cancer, cure rare diseases, to map out biodiversity at a global scale, to understand and predict wildfires, to find climate solutions, to supercharge our teachers. There’s so much the public sector can do, but all of this is right now starved because we are severely lacking in resources.”

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Some of the other topics covered in the order are geared toward anticipating and mitigating real-world problems that may arise from the widespread implementation of AI.

For instance, it asks the Department of Labor to address the potential for AI to cause job losses; the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development to address how AI may exacerbate discrimination in banking and housing sectors; and the Office of Management and Budget, and others, to determine how the government can use AI without jeopardizing privacy rights.

The AI Now Institute managing director, Sarah Myers West, praised President Biden for including ethical concerns in the executive order. The nonprofit focuses on the societal implications of artificial intelligence use.

“It’s great to see the White House set the tone on the issues that matter most to the public: labor, civil rights, protecting privacy, promoting competition. This underscores you can’t deal with the future risks of AI without adequately dealing with the present. The key to looking forward will be to ensure strong enforcement as companies attempt to set a self-regulatory tone: industry cannot be left to lead the conversation on how to adequately address the effects of AI on the broader public.”

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Regulating AI Technology

As we have propelled ourselves into the future, technology is developing at an outstanding rate. Many companies and countries have had to adjust laws and regulations in order to meet the demands of the ever-changing digital world. Anti-hacking laws and cyber security have seen many amendments and adjustments to cope with the un-probed areas of the digital landscape. Recently, calls for better regulations to control the developing area of Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been issued.

AI technology is an expansive area which in essence aims to mimic human intelligence with machine learning. The areas this technology can lend itself to varies from simple tasks to complex roles. We have already begun to see the uses of which in our everyday lives, many of us have Apple’s “Siri” in our pockets or Amazon’s “Alexa” in our homes. If not, the experiences of equivalent voice recognition technology in our phones, computers, TV’s, cars and more is not unknown.

The development of driver-less cars, virtual agents, management and learning systems all utilize AI technology. Its reach can be seen in that of agriculture, marketing, security, transport, manufacturing, climate change, healthcare and beyond. Its use and autonomy in all of these areas is rapidly developing and spreading into broad and specific niches.

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It’s no wonder therefore, that there are calls for not only a more extensive look at AI regulation but a tailored approach. CEO of Alphabet, parent company of Google, recently called for such regulations. Where there are guidelines developing in both the US and EU he calls for a global standard. Writing in the Financial Times, he states that Google’s own AI regulations were outlined in 2018, the aims of which are to ensure principles such as “safety, privacy, fairness and accountability, alongside monitoring where AI should not be used, for example, where it could violate human rights.”

This call for regulation has not only been heard from Google, but other companies such as Twitter, who have recently confronted AI company Clearview, (a company used by homeland security and the FBI), to stop taking images from the site for facial recognition and thus violating Twitter’s privacy policies. Further, the European commission is considering a ban on facial recognition technology in order to catch up and address areas where the equipment could be abused and presumably prevent that. Where some countries such as China are embracing facial recognition and rolling it out rapidly, many campaigners have spoken out against the use of such technology as it infringes upon an individual’s privacy rights.

The use and development of AI technologies has exposed many challenges and considerations in ethics, safety, justice and beyond. Whilst technology companies and leaders develop Artificial Intelligence, they have the power to regulate and develop it into areas that they see fit. Therefore, without a government or a world code of conduct, how will these developers hold to a universal standard and fairly use these systems?

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The answer to this seems already underway. In 2019, countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and beyond, totaling forty-two countries, formally agreed to uphold standards in AI technology development “to ensure AI systems are designed to be robust, safe, fair and trustworthy.” Countries such as the USA, UK and many in South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East came together to agree on policies. The official OECD press release summarizes objectives such as:

1. AI should benefit people and the planet by driving inclusive growth, sustainable development and well-being.
2. AI systems should be designed in a way that respects the rule of law, human rights, democratic values and diversity, and they should include appropriate safeguards – for example, enabling human intervention where necessary – to ensure a fair and just society.
3. There should be transparency and responsible disclosure around AI systems to ensure that people understand when they are engaging with them and can challenge outcomes.
4. AI systems must function in a robust, secure and safe way throughout their lifetimes, and potential risks should be continually assessed and managed.
5. Organisations and individuals developing, deploying or operating AI systems should be held accountable for their proper functioning in line with the above principles.

Where innovation and technology are rapidly developing the question is how can we foresee all of the pitfalls and downsides that the advancement of such technology will bring? The call for regulation in itself may be something that needs constant revisiting and re-writing, alongside encouraging more and more governments to agree to universal standards. Without stalling progress and allowing all of the benefits of artificial technology to permeate and advance humanity, it seems a mammoth task to envisage and pre-meditate protection against all of the potential downsides and abuses.