Biden Wants to Move Fast on AI Safeguards; Will Sign an Executive Order

Associated Press - October 31, 2023 6:11 am

Pres Joe Biden speaks about artificial intelligence in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, July 21, 2023.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday signed a sweeping executive order to guide the development of artificial intelligence — requiring industry to develop safety and security standards, introducing new consumer protections and giving federal agencies an extensive to-do list to oversee the rapidly progressing technology.

The order reflects the government’s effort to shape how AI evolves in a way that can maximize its possibilities and contain its perils. AI has been a source of deep personal interest for Biden, with its potential to affect the economy and national security.

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.”

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.

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 new text, images and sounds.

Using the Defense Production Act, the order will require 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 order also touches on matters of privacy, civil rights, consumer protections, scientific research and worker rights.

An administration official who previewed the order on a Sunday call with reporters said the to-do lists within the order will be implemented and fulfilled over the range of 90 days to 365 days, with the safety and security items facing the earliest deadlines. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, as required by the White House.

Last Thursday, Biden gathered his aides in the Oval Office to review and finalize the executive order, a 30-minute meeting that stretched to 70 minutes, despite other pressing matters including the mass shooting in Maine, the Israel-Hamas war and the selection of a new House speaker.

Biden was profoundly curious about the technology in the months of meetings that led up to drafting the order. His science advisory council focused on AI at two meetings and his Cabinet discussed it at two meetings. The president also pressed tech executives and civil society advocates about the technology’s capabilities at multiple gatherings.

“He was as impressed and alarmed as anyone,” deputy White House chief of staff Bruce Reed said in an interview. “He saw fake AI images of himself, of his dog. He saw how it can make bad poetry. And he’s seen and heard the incredible and terrifying technology of voice cloning, which can take three seconds of your voice and turn it into an entire fake conversation.”


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