US President Joe Biden’s Executive Order on the responsible use and management of artificial intelligence (AI) puts AI firmly at the top of the agenda. What impact might this have on government funding priorities?
On October 30, 2023, Biden issued an Executive Order (EO) on the responsible use and management of AI, marking the strongest set of actions any government in the world has taken.
The order calls for ‘a society-wide effort’ to harness AI for good and mitigate its substantial risks.
A pivotal step in shaping the nation’s AI policy, the order mandates crucial elements such as safety assessments, civil rights guidance, and comprehensive research into the labor market impact of AI technologies.
The AI Bill in Detail: Eight Key Areas
The language of the order focuses on two primary functions: how safe AI can be used to improve people’s lives, and how the regulatory bodies should form guidelines to address the rapid pace of AI development.
The bill focuses on eight key topics:
- Creating standards for AI safety and security by calling for the National Institute of Standards and Testing to implement standards for red-team testing to ensure public safety, requiring safety test results be shared with the U.S. government, directing the Commerce Department to create guidance for AI watermarking, and building on previous efforts to use AI tools to make software and networks more secure.
- Protecting consumer privacy involves a call to Congress to pass bipartisan privacy legislation, prioritizing privacy-preserving techniques and research and assessing how commercially available data is being collected and used.
- Advancing equity and civil rights expands upon the administration’s previous efforts to combat algorithmic discrimination by providing guidelines to landlords and contractors. It also approaches algorithmic discrimination by developing best practices for using AI in the justice system.
- Standing up for consumers, patients, and students by giving the Department of Health and Human Services the power to oversee AI use in developing drugs and other healthcare practices. There is a somewhat lackluster push for creating resources to support educators included here.
- Supporting workers involves giving workers collective bargaining rights and investing in the means to make training and development accessible to all by establishing best practices for employment and producing a government-funded study on the potential labor market impacts.
- Promoting innovation and competition seeks to catalyze research and promote a competitive landscape for AI development by expanding the resources available for research in vital areas. It also addresses an important concern in encouraging existing authorities to modernize the visa process for highly skilled workers with critical expertise to study, work, and live in the US.
- Advancing American leadership abroad seeks to encourage global partners to support the secure deployment and use of AI worldwide. It empowers the State Department and the Commerce Department to create frameworks on an international stage, hopefully accelerating the implementation of AI standards and promoting the use of AI in solving pertinent global problems.
- Ensuring responsible and effective government use of AI attempts to speed up government hiring of skilled workers, in addition to issuing clear rights for agency use of AI.
Response to the Bill
Response to the bill, from political leaders to industry experts, has been mixed.
Some have hailed it as an important step forward, while others argue that it doesn’t go far enough to protect people right now, instead focusing on the foundational work required to protect people in the future.
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene of Washington stated:
“I welcome the president’s executive order to ensure AI is implemented in a safe and secure way, especially his focus on consumer privacy protections. But executive action can only take us so far. Congress’ delay in passing a strong national data privacy standard risks the U.S. falling further behind other countries and dilutes America’s longstanding global technology leadership.”
‘Tremendous Potential of AI’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, industry leaders have responded more positively, pointing to the benefits of the tremendous innovative potential of AI.
A joint statement by leading AI security companies (OpenPolicy, Astrix, Cranium.AI, etc.) said:
“We believe that the Biden-Harris Administration’s Executive Order provides a sound framework for addressing the emerging security and safety AI threats and ensuring that AI is developed and used in a safe, secure, and trustworthy manner.”
Damon Hewitt, president and ED of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, said:
“This executive order is a critical step to help guard against algorithmic bias and discrimination. It can be the beginning of a pathway to a future where AI empowers instead of oppresses.”
US: Global Leader on AI Policy
After consulting with several top companies in May to gather commitments to develop appropriate safeguards and then rolling out voluntary requirements for AI policy in August, the highly-anticipated executive order marks a step towards more concrete regulation and attempts to position the US as a global leader on AI policy.
It came just two days before the UK-hosted AI safety summit in early November, at which US Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about the path forward for the safe and responsible use of AI. Ahead of the summit, the Vice President described this as being a moment of “profound opportunity”, and hailed the “immense” benefits of AI:
It could give us the power to fight the climate crisis, make medical and scientific breakthroughs, explore our universe, and improve everyday life for people around the world.”
What Does the Bill Mean for Funding Priorities?
Grantify Senior Funding Analyst, Aaron Sexton, says at this stage while it is hard to discern what the impact on government funding priorities is likely to be, a shift towards data security seems likely:
Since the EO positions itself primarily from the angle of accountability at this stage, while it is likely to have an effect on the accountability of AI development, little can be said for certain about a shift in funding at this stage. That said, as America positions itself as a leader in AI concerns, there should be significant movement potential for cybersecurity and related domains.
However, new opportunities should abound in innovative and compelling investments related to AI safety. We can expect a significant shift in focus towards responsible solutions for data security as the EO encourages protecting privacy and civil liberties in a number of places.”
Beyond Generative AI
One thing it’s important to note is that the scope of the EO is not really limited to generative AI.
The definition of AI in the EO (15 U.S.C. 9401(3)) is “a machine-based system that can, for a given set of human-defined objectives, make predictions, recommendations or decisions influencing real or virtual environments.”
This actually means that in the entrepreneurial landscape, any system that makes predictions/recommendations or decisions is impacted.
Also, since this is a gesture of the executive branch, the EO concentrates on requirements and mandates without setting any regulation into law. While it should certainly be the trigger for the beginning of the law making process, Congress, who are continuing to study the policy implications raised by AI development, will ultimately be responsible for any concrete actions from the American government.