Big Data

Biden AI exec order rolls out to applause, concerns of overreach


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In what could go down as a historic moment in technology policy, the Biden-Harris Administration issued a sweeping Executive Order this morning on “Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence.”

While VentureBeat has not seen the full text of the 100+ page Executive Order, a White House-released Fact Sheet, as well as comments from dozens of experts who have seen the entire document, make it clear that there is a wide variety of issues covered — including AI safety, bioweapons risk, national security, cybersecurity, privacy, bias, civil rights, algorithmic discrimination, criminal justice, education, workers’ rights, and research.

A few notable actions within the AI Executive Order:

  • Developers of powerful foundation models will be required to share safety test results and other critical information with the US government.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology will set “the rigorous standards for extensive red-team testing to ensure safety before public release.”
  • The Department of Commerce will “develop guidance for content authentication and watermarking to clearly label AI-generated content.”
  • The US government will produce a report on AI’s potential labor-market impacts
  • “Existing authorities” will modernize and streamline visa access, expanding “the ability of highly skilled immigrants and nonimmigrants with expertise in critical areas to study, stay, and work in the United States.”
  • This week, Vice President Harris will speak at the UK Summit on AI Safety, hosted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
  • The government will issue guidance for agencies’ use of AI — “including clear standards to protect rights and safety, improve AI procurement, and strengthen AI deployment.”  

Hundreds of AI experts weighed in on the exec order

Not surprisingly, the reaction was quick and overwhelming, with seemingly every expert across the AI landscape, from both the public and private sector, weighing in.

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Merve Hickok, president of the independent nonprofit Center for AI and Digital Policy, told VentureBeat in a phone interview this morning that she wasn’t expecting such a broad Executive Order, “but we’re happy to see it” — that is, she explained, that the US is “promoting democratic values and advanced leadership on AI governance.”

The EO underlines the fact that the Biden administration “understands the real and immediate challenges of AI and they still call on bipartisan legislation from the Congress,” she explained. “So the EO is one part of the administration’s multi pronged approach, but it is definitely in the right direction.”

Hicock particularly applauded the new rules on AI procurement for federal agencies, with clear standards to protect rights and safety. “We’ve been demanding that guidance from OMB [Office of Management and Budget] for multiple years now,” she said.

Many offered positive takes on how the EO tackles AI risks

Many others posted their positive takes on various aspects of the AI Executive Order. For example, Jack Clark, co-founder of Anthropic, posted on X that “seeing such a heavy emphasis on testing and evaluating AI systems seems good – you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Meanwhile, author and critic Gary Marcus, who testified about AI regulation before the Senate, along with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman in May, wrote in his Substack newsletter that “there’s a lot to like in the Executive Order. It’s fantastic that the US government is taking the many risks of AI seriously.”

But, he added, “how effective this actually becomes depends a lot on the exact wording, and how things are enforced, and how much of it is binding as opposed to merely voluntary.”

Others voiced concerns about AI regulatory overreach

Others weighed in with their concerns about the broad nature of the Executive Order. Adam Thierer, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, wrote an analysis provocatively titled “White House Executive Order Threatens to Put AI in a Regulatory Cage.”

While some “will appreciate the whole-of-government approach to AI required by the order, if taken too far, unilateral and heavy-handed administrative meddling in AI markets could undermine America’s global competitiveness and even the nation’s geopolitical security,” he wrote, adding that “the new EO highlights how the administration is adopting an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to AI policy that is, at once, extremely ambitious and potentially over-zealous.”

President Biden gave staff directive to ‘move with urgency’

Still, it’s clear that the Executive Order reflects the Biden Administration’s effort to take a forward-leaning stance on shaping the evolution of AI. According to the Associated Press, AI “has been a source of deep personal interest for Biden, with its potential to affect the economy and national security.”

The AP reported that White House chief of staff Jeff Zients recalled Biden “giving his staff a directive to move with urgency on the issue, having considered the technology a top priority.”

“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.”

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