Federal Government Continues to Grapple with AI Guidelines

Agencies across the federal government are actively exploring steps to regulate artificial intelligence, seeking to ensure it is safe now while minimizing future harms. The Commerce Department this week issued a public request for comment to be accepted within the next 60 days, then used by U.S. policymakers as they consider new rules for a consumer technology sector that has exploded globally in 2023. The move by Commerce comes on the heels of a scathing advisory by the Federal Trade Commission, which has been examining ways generative AI could be misused for scams or fraud.

“It is amazing to see what these tools can do even in their relative infancy,” National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Alan Davidson told The Wall Street Journal. “We know that we need to put some guardrails in place to make sure that they are being used responsibly.”

The NTIA is the Commerce Department unit that put out the request for comment. Davidson emphasized that his agency advises President Biden on tech policy and does not issue or enforce regulations. Biden last week conferred with an advisory council of scientists including representatives from Microsoft and Google in a meeting at the White House, according to WSJ.

OpenAI’s GPT-4 was thrust into the spotlight of what is now an international debate on whether and how AI should be regulated with the publication on March 22 of an open letter calling for “all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.” The letter has a great deal of industry support, but there is also push-back against pausing and regulation.

“Some technologists have warned compliance burdens could hamstring American companies’ ability to compete” globally, writes The Washington Post. Tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon are making moves in the space. “As an AI arms race heats up in Silicon Valley,” The Post describes Washington agencies grappling with their role.

The idea of the National Institute of Standards and Technology coordinating AI efforts “across the government” was floated “in a recent meeting in Silicon Valley between tech executives and lawmakers,” The Post reports. The NIST stepped into the breach, releasing an AI Risk Management Framework earlier this year. The FTC has staked out a position, and the NTIA now joins the effort.

The Post describes these agencies as “hustling to apply their existing tools onto the Wild West of generative AI” until such time as new laws are passed.

There are currently no laws regarding artificial intelligence pending before the U.S.  Congress, though there are in the states. Regulators in the EU and China are working on it. “Responsible AI systems could bring enormous benefits, but only if we address their potential consequences and harms,” Davidson said in a statement, adding, “for these systems to reach their full potential, companies and consumers need to be able to trust them.”

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