President Joe Biden yesterday (April 4) sat down with his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) to discuss the risks and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence development.
During the powwow with academics and executives from tech giants like Google and Microsoft, Biden underscored AI’s potential to address major global challenges such as disease and climate change. The 46th US President also considered the possible societal risks such as to national security and the economy.
Biden fires warning to tech firms over AI
The meeting comes at a time when world leaders are paying increased attention to this fast-evolving technology. Many view AI-powered tools as a way to solve many of our most intractable and long-standing problems – but also as a danger to entrenched personal freedoms.
Addressing the latter threat, Biden called for “bipartisan privacy legislation” to restrict personal data collection, prohibit targeted advertising aimed at children, and prioritize health and safety in ongoing product development.
Arguing that robust legislation is required, Biden said “Tech companies have a responsibility to make sure their products are safe before making them public.”
Asked whether AI was dangerous, he replied that “It remains to be seen,” adding, “It could be.”
Last year, the Biden government set forth its plans to protect citizens’ personal data and limit surveillance in the age of AI. The Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights set detailed “five principles that should guide the design, use, and deployment of automated systems to protect the American public in the age of artificial intelligence.”
The categories included (1) Safe and Effective Systems, (2) Algorithmic Discrimination Protections, (3) Data Privacy, (4) Notice and Explanation, (5) Human Alternatives, Consideration, and Fallback.
When it comes to AI, we must both support responsible innovation and ensure appropriate guardrails to protect folks’ rights and safety.
Our Administration is committed to that balance, from addressing bias in algorithms – to protecting privacy and combating disinformation.
— President Biden (@POTUS) April 4, 2023
At the PCAST meeting, Biden drew parallels between AI and social media, arguing that the latter highlighted the harms that powerful technologies could cause if protections are not put in place.
“Absent safeguards, we see the impact on the mental health and self-images and feelings and hopelessness, especially among young people,” he remarked. Biden did not elaborate on whether AI might cause similar problems.
Deep learning, deep concerns
Much of the criticism of AI to date has focused on the pace of development, the potential of technology to replace human labor, and the risks of deepfakes and misinformation campaigns.
Indeed, some fear AI could play a role in next year’s Presidential election, perhaps through the creation of precision-targeted disinformation campaigns that sway voters.
As we reported last week, over 10,000 people, including Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, have added their signature to an open letter calling for a pause on AI research more powerful than OpenAI’s GPT-4, claiming “AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity.”
Biden’s PCAST meeting reflects unease, though perhaps not on the same catastrophist level. One thing’s for sure, Biden and other US policymakers will be keen to ensure the US is well-positioned in the race for AI dominance. Particularly given what Harvard Economics Professor David Yang calls the “outsized success of China’s AI sector.”