Biden wants to move fast on AI safeguards and signs an executive order to address his concerns

President Joe Biden signs an executive on artificial intelligence in the East Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris applauds at right. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday signed an ambitious executive order on artificial intelligence that seeks to balance the needs of cutting-edge technology companies with national security and consumer rights, creating an early set of guardrails that could be fortified by legislation and global agreements.

Before signing the order, Biden said AI is driving change at “warp speed” and carries tremendous potential as well as perils.

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“AI is all around us,” Biden said. “To realize the promise of AI and avoid the risk, we need to govern this technology.”

The order is an initial step that is meant to ensure that AI is trustworthy and helpful, rather than deceptive and destructive.

The order — which will likely need to be augmented by congressional action — seeks to steer how AI is developed so that companies can profit without putting public safety in jeopardy.

Using the Defense Production Act, the order requires leading AI developers to share safety test results and other information with the government. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is to create standards to ensure AI tools are safe and secure before public release.

The Commerce Department is to issue guidance to label and watermark AI-generated content to help differentiate between authentic interactions and those generated by software.

The extensive order touches on matters of privacy, civil rights, consumer protections, scientific research and worker rights.

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients recalled Biden giving his staff a directive when formulating the order to move with urgency.

“We can’t move at a normal government pace,” Zients said the Democratic president told him. “We have to move as fast, if not faster, than the technology itself.”

In Biden’s view, the government was late to address the risks of social media and now U.S. youth are grappling with related mental health issues.

AI has the positive ability to accelerate cancer research, model the impacts of climate change, boost economic output and improve government services among other benefits. But it could also warp basic notions of truth with false images, deepen racial and social inequalities and provide a tool to scammers and criminals.

With the European Union nearing final passage of a sweeping law to rein in AI harms and Congress still in the early stages of debating safeguards, the Biden administration is “stepping up to use the levers it can control,” said digital rights advocate Alexandra Reeve Givens, president of the Center for Democracy &Technology. “That’s issuing guidance and standards to shape private sector behavior and leading by example in the federal government’s own use of AI.”

The order builds on voluntary commitments already made by technology companies. It’s part of a broader strategy that administration officials say also includes congressional legislation and international diplomacy, a sign of the disruptions already caused by the introduction of new AI tools such as ChatGPT that can generate text, images and sounds.

The guidance within the order is to be implemented and fulfilled over the range of 90 days to 365 days.

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