With the increasing use of generative AI systems like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google Bard, demand has grown to regulate them to protect against their potential dangers. In response, on October 30, 2023, President Biden issued Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence. He stated that the order is focused on safety, security, trust, openness, American leadership, and the rights of creators.
The order directs various federal agencies and departments, including the departments of Commerce, Energy, and Homeland Security, as well as the military and intelligence communities, to create standards and regulations for the use and oversight of AI.
What had been done already before the order?
Before the order, Biden and Trump had taken some actions on AI:
- In 2019, the Trump administration issued an AI executive order laying out government’s investment in and standards for the use of AI. However, it was issued before ChatGPT’s explosion in popularity in early 2023.
- In 2022, the Biden administration issued the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and in July 2023 secured voluntary commitments from companies that develop or use AI.
The Eight Principles of Biden’s Executive Order
The order aims to govern the development and use of AI according to eight principles summarized as:
- Establish new standards for safety and security, particularly around CBRN (chemical, biological, radioactive, or nuclear) threats, as well as data privacy, cybersecurity, fraud, and deepfakes.
- Promote innovation, competition, and collaboration. The order calls for catalyzing AI research through a pilot of the National AI Research Resource. Efforts are aimed to promote a fair, open, and competitive AI ecosystem by providing small developers and entrepreneurs access to technical assistance and resources. Finally, the order seeks to attract and retain highly skilled immigrants and nonimmigrants by modernizing and streamlining visa criteria, interviews, and reviews.
- Support American workers. This part of the order is meant to mitigate risks posed by AI, to support workers’ ability to bargain collectively, and invest in workforce training and development.
- Advance equity and civil rights. This ranges from providing guidance (to landlords, Federal benefits programs, and federal contractors) to addressing algorithmic discrimination, and ensuring fairness throughout the criminal justice system.
- Protect the interests of Americans using AI, particularly consumers, patients, and students. The order aims to advance the responsible use of AI to transform education as well as in healthcare for the development of affordable and life-saving drugs.
- Protect Data Privacy. This includes prioritizing privacy research, developing federal guidelines for privacy, and evaluating how agencies collect and use commercially available information.
- Ensure Responsible and Effective Government Use of AI. The order Issues guidance for agencies’ use of AI, helps agencies acquire specified AI products and services, and accelerates hiring of AI professionals.
- Advance American Leadership Abroad. This includes working with international allies and partners to expand bilateral, multilateral, and multistakeholder engagements to collaborate on AI.
- Legislation: The executive order by Biden lays groundwork in setting standards, requiring testing and reporting, and so on. The idea is that these foundations will evolve into tangible programs. Rep Don Beyer (D-VA), vice chair of the House’s AI Caucus, stated that the order was a “comprehensive strategy for responsible innovation,” but that it was now “necessary for Congress to step up and legislate strong standards for equity, bias, risk management, and consumer protection.”
What’s the rest of the world doing?
- China released its rules for generative AI use last summer.
- The EU’s AI Act has been evolving since 2021, incorporates generative AI, and passed in December 2023 but still has implementation steps to come. However, some are concerned it will only help US big tech companies.
- The G7 announced that they’ve reached an agreement on guiding principles and a voluntary code of conduct and are discussing a framework for AI rules and laws.
What’s the software industry’s take?
The general response seems to be cautious optimism, with the recognition that the order is limited and is only a start.
- Microsoft is the key investor and licensing partner of OpenAI, the creator of generative AI technologies ChatGPT and its API counterpart, GPT. Microsoft president Brad Smith called it “another critical step forward.”
- Venture capitalist (VC) founders of a16z Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, along with other VCs, researchers, academics and founders in AI, sent a letter to the Biden administration. They offered to engage in dialog and to offer perspectives so that any orders or legislation do not restrict open-source AI with respect to unreasonably restricting innovation and preventing fair competition.
- The digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future said in a statement that it was a “positive step.”
The promising potential of AI to positively reshape our world is clear. While there is a call from some for minimal regulation so as not to constrain innovation, the Biden administration recognizes the potential threats of AI and is acting with advice from industry leaders. “We face a genuine inflection point,” Biden said in his speech when announcing the order, “one of those moments where the decisions we make in the very near term are going to set the course for the next decades … There’s no greater change that I can think of in my life than AI presents.”