US moves to catch up with Europe on agreeing guardrails for AI

President Biden has been chatting to experts on the pros and cons of artificial intelligence but there’s little sign of progress on its regulation.

You can see the US President reading out a summary of his latest meeting with AI experts in the video below. This group seemed to have a special interest in the intersection of technology and society and that, rather than any imminent risk of extinction, has been the predominant focus of the world’s politicians and regulators, ever since alarm bells were rung earlier this year.

“In seizing this moment, we need to manage the risks to our society, to our economy, and our national security,” said Biden. “My administration is committed to safeguarding America’s rights and safety, from protecting privacy, to addressing bias and disinformation, to making sure AI systems are safe before they are released.”

Unusually, the EU seems to be acting the quickest among the major powers to formalise a set of AI guardrails ostensibly designed to protect its citizens from even more intrusions into their privacy and liberty than they already face. Lost in the drama of its growing hostility to Chinese telecoms vendors last week was an EU vote on its proposed AI Act, which is a fairly ambitious attempt to establish a comprehensive set of rules, as summarised by Commissioner Vestager below.

Biden did mention an ‘AI Bill of Rights’ that he proposed last October, but there seems to have been little progress since then. One reason could be the many competing interests in this field, with positions ranging from unconditional cheerleading to apocalyptic paranoia. There will be extensive lobbying from anyone with an interest in the direction of AI, from both commercial and ethical perspectives, and this piece by MIT Technology Review does a decent job of examining the current state of play.

Another complicating factor will be the near impossibility of globally harmonising any such guardrails. More specifically, there has been little sign that China intends to constrain its AI research and the US is presumably anxious about losing ground to its great geopolitical rival. Diplomatic relations between the two countries are at a historical low, not helped by recent loose comments from Biden, but maybe a recent meeting with Chinese dictator President will mark some kind of positive inflection point.


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