Concerns mount over Biden executive order regulating artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence | source: Wikimedia Commons

President Joe Biden issued an executive order detailing new standards for the safe and secure use of artificial intelligence, as well as various regulations to protect the privacy of American citizens and uphold equity. It is the first executive order in American history on artificial intelligence development and usage. 

Key Player

President Joe Biden, the 47th president of the United States, was elected to office in November 2020. Prior to becoming president, he represented Delaware as a U.S. senator for 36 years and served as vice president under Barack Obama. 

Further Details

On Oct. 30, 2023, the White House announced comprehensive details regarding the executive order, emphasizing a commitment to the “safe, secure, and trustworthy” development and responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI) in an increasingly technology-reliant society that holds “extraordinary potential for both promise and peril.” 

Biden expressed hopes of taking advantage of the positive attributes of AI while mitigating its potential dangers. Specifically, the order issues new and comprehensive standards aimed at protecting Americans from the “potential risks of AI systems.” 

The actions authorized in the order include the establishment of an advanced cybersecurity program to “fix vulnerabilities” in software, implementation of extensive security testing prior to public release of AI technology, and a requirement for certain AI developers to share safety test results with the federal 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 Homeland Security will apply those standards,” according to the executive order. 

Several prominent figures in the tech industry commented on the order. Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a tech and industry think tank, said the significant increases in government involvement introduced by the order were impractical.

“There’s a huge gap between goals and reality throughout the EO,” Castro asserted, adding that “policymakers often forget that the reason industry hasn’t already adopted certain solutions is because the solution doesn’t yet exist.”

In addition to monitoring the creation and usage of AI, the order focuses on promoting the privacy rights of Americans, with the White House stating that AI not only “makes it easier to extract, identify, and exploit personal data,” but also advances a continuous cycle of data collection, as companies use this data to “train AI systems.”

New guidelines for federal agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of data protection efforts, along with federal support of the development of privacy-preserving techniques, seek to regulate the collection of private information. Biden aims to fund a research coordination network that would engage in privacy preservation research and strengthen cryptographic tools that protect civilian data.

Importantly, the order recognized the tendency of various AI algorithms to endorse biased views and nonpartisan political agendas, especially when used in hiring processes and credit decisions. It expanded upon the Biden administration’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, released in October 2022 with the goal of eliminating “harmful bias and discrimination” in AI algorithms. 

A section of the order that specifically targeted the promotion of equity and civil rights said training and technical assistance will be used to “address algorithmic discrimination.” Further, the U.S. Department of Justice will work with federal civil rights offices to develop criteria for dealing with AI-related civil rights violations.

With the rise of AI technology in recent years, the order marks a defining point in American history as the federal government continues to assess how AI should be regulated. Bruce Reed, the deputy chief of staff at the White House, deemed the order “the strongest set of actions any government in the world has ever taken on AI safety, security and trust.”

Outcome 

Biden’s ambitious executive order meets with skepticism

On Nov. 9, 2023, National Review, a conservative magazine, released a piece criticizing the lack of feasibility of implementing Biden’s order. While it is ambitious, wrote Jessica Melugin, it “risks too much regulatory harm in exchange for avoiding risks inherent in adoption of new technologies.” 

In other words, federal regulatory agencies might not be able to anticipate the ongoing changes surrounding the progression of AI technology, as well as the influences of actors beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. law.

Melugin asserted that the extensive government intervention envisioned in the order would allow the government to use its “enormous buying power” to distort the development of AI products and services, rather than allowing market forces to shape technological development.  She expressed skepticism that government bureaucrats could encourage innovation and mitigate risk better than markets would. 

If the tech industry seeks to make fast progress in the development of AI through America’s historically successful tradition of “permissionless innovation” — the ability to  experiment freely with new technologies and business models — the federal government must exercise greater caution in the scope of its regulation, she argued. 

“In the real world, there’s no way to realize the enormous potential of AI and simultaneously eliminate all hazard,”  Melugin wrote.