“It is our intention that the actions we take at home will serve as a model for international action, recognizing that AI developed in one country can impact the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across the world whole world,” Harris said Monday. “Fundamentally, it is our belief that technology with a global impact requires global action.”
Ahead of Biden’s speech, WIRED spoke with Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She was quick to dismiss a question about who has the president’s ear on generative AI. “Let’s start at the beginning,” she offered. “This is the largest action anyone in the world has ever taken on AI, and the President has driven this from the beginning.”
Prabhakar was also reluctant to talk about how a law intended for wartime could be casually used to issue new technology regulations. “The Defense Production Act has been used in times of crisis when we face significant national security challenges,” Prabhakar said, noting that it is being used to accelerate the delivery of vaccines and personal protective equipment during the pandemic.
But is the US – WIRED asked in countless ways – in a national crisis caused by AI on the level of a war or a global pandemic?
“The national security issues are not the whole story, but one part that needs to be addressed,” Prabhakar said. “That’s the reason to use the Defense Production Act for the very specific purpose of obtaining notice and disclosure regarding robust model development beyond where we are today.” It’s a neat theory that could ultimately be tested in court, as companies challenge this new use case for a law typically used only in emergencies.
Prabhakar steered the conversation back to more mundane AI, but ultimately also highlighted other limitations of Biden’s latest executive action. “The vast majority of the actions in this executive order are about how we responsibly use the AI technologies already available in the world,” she said. “How do we ensure that they do not violate the privacy of Americans? How do we make sure that we don’t harbor biases that change, you know, where people can live and whether they get a loan or go to prison or not?”
Big questions – but changing the rules for privacy or mandating, for example, universal watermarking of AI-altered images for private companies will require legislation from Congress. Even as his White House goes to great lengths to sell the sweeping new executive order as a historic first, Biden concedes that the order falls short of the changes brought about by this ever-evolving technology demand. “This executive order represents bold action, but we still need Congress to act,” Biden said.