Biden releases AI executive order directing agencies to develop safety guidelines

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By Aprilia Reen

An illustration of a cartoon brain with a computer chip imposed on top.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order providing rules around generative AI, ahead of any legislation coming from lawmakers.

The order has eight goals: to create new standards for AI safety and security, protect privacy, advance equity and civil rights, stand up for consumers, patients, and students, support workers, promote innovation and competition, advance US leadership in AI technologies, and ensure the responsible and effective government use of the technology. 

Several government agencies are tasked with creating standards to protect against the use of AI to engineer biological materials, establish best practices around content authentication, and build advanced cybersecurity programs. 

The National Institute of Standards and Safety (NIST) will be responsible for developing standards to “red team” AI models before public release, while the Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security are directed to address the potential threat of AI to infrastructure and the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and cybersecurity risks. Developers of large AI models like OpenAI ‘s GPT and Meta’s Llama 2 are required to share safety test results. 

A senior Biden administration official told reporters in a briefing that the safety guidelines apply mainly to future AI models.

“We’re not going recall publically available models that are out there,” the official said. “Existing models are still subject to the anti-discrimination rules already in place.”

To protect users’ privacy, the White House called on Congress to pass data privacy regulations. The order also seeks federal support for the development of “privacy-preserving” techniques and technologies. 

Part of the order plans to prevent the use of AI to discriminate, including addressing algorithmic discrimination and ensuring fairness when utilizing the technology for sentencing, parole, and surveillance. It also orders government agencies to provide guidelines for landlords, Federal benefits programs, and contracts on how to prevent AI from exacerbating discrimination.

Agencies are directed to address job displacement and produce a report on the impact of AI on the labor market. The White House also wants to encourage more workers to work in the AI ecosystem and ordered the launch of a National AI Research Resource to provide key information to students and AI researchers and access to technical assistance for small businesses. It also directed the rapid hiring of AI professionals for the government.

The Biden administration first released an AI Bill of Rights outlining a set of principles developers of AI models should follow. These were later turned into a series of agreements between the White House and several AI players, including Meta, Google, OpenAI, Nvidia, and Adobe.

But, an executive order is not a permanent law and generally only lasts the length of Biden’s administration. Lawmakers are still discussing how to regulate AI, though some politicians said they want to pass laws around AI before the end of the year.

Industry observers said the executive order is at least a step forward in providing standards around generative AI.

Navrina Singh, founder of Credo AI and a member of the National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee, said an executive order is a strong signal that the US is serious about generative AI.

“It’s the right move for right now because we can’t expect policies to be perfect at the onset while legislation is still discussed,” Singh said. “I do believe that this really shows AI is a top priority for government.”

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