Artificial Intelligence

The Good, and the Gaps, in Biden’s AI Strategy

This article, edited for length and context, was originally published on LinkedIn.

Overview The Biden Administration is facing an inflection point as our government grapples with one of the most thrilling and challenging tech developments of our time, artificial intelligence (AI). On October 30, the president issued the United States’ first executive order focused on AI, an extensive 111-page EO aimed at ensuring "safe, secure, and trustworthy" AI development. At CTA, we’ve long said that the U.S. needs to lead the world on AI innovation – but is this EO the right way forward?

We need policies at the federal level that support entrepreneurs, startups and the broader AI ecosystem.  As we look forward to a future of AI transformation, it’s also instructive to look back a few decades to another period of world-changing technology innovation. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration saw the rapid rise of the Internet and online commerce. Like any significant new innovation, the Internet sparked excitement, but also dread and opposition. Headlines warned of everything from the destruction of established industries to the corruption of society through the spread of indecent content. 
President Clinton and his advisors did not succumb to fear. They recognized the extraordinary potential of a nation connected to the Internet and embraced a "light-touch" approach to regulation, allowing the Internet to flourish with minimal government intervention. This approach nurtured innovation, competition, and investment in the Internet, propelling the United States to become a global technology leader and igniting a digital revolution that profoundly reshaped society and the global economy. 
In contrast to Clinton's approach, the Biden Administration seems more focused on the potential harms of AI than its potential. Of course, the EO is not all bad, and there are elements that will serve the United States and our innovators and entrepreneurs well. 

The Positive  

  • The EO acknowledges AI's potential to address pressing challenges and enhance our prosperity, productivity, innovation and security. It aims to establish a coherent framework for AI, recognizing the need to avoid overlapping efforts among government agencies.  
  • Additionally, the Executive Order emphasizes the importance of attracting global talent to fuel ongoing U.S. economic growth and competitiveness, proposing changes that would boost high-skilled immigration. 

 The Concerning  

  • The EO’s support for expanded Federal Trade Commission regulatory authority over the AI ecosystem could invite unwarranted interference with AI innovators and the nascent AI market. Given the current FTC chair's antipathy toward innovation and American business, empowering the FTC as America’s default AI regulator would be a significant mistake. 
  • The EO leans toward a top-down control approach over existing industry initiatives. Despite the fact that leading AI companies have voluntarily agreed to AI safety protocols, the administration invokes the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to compel companies to notify the government about training activities and results before releasing products to the public. This approach, in the words of technologist Adam Thierer, risks confining AI innovators in a "regulatory cage" that requires permission to innovate.  
  • The EO opens the door to regulations affecting all facets of AI use in healthcare, research, drug and device safety, delivery and financing. When combined, these new regulations could hinder smaller companies from developing AI-led tools in healthcare. 
  • The top-down approach in the EO also extends to the development of government standards for cutting-edge AI models. This contrasts with the voluntary industry standards model that has propelled American firms to leadership in nearly every global technology sector. Voluntary standards are crafted by industry stakeholders who deeply understand the market's needs and consumer demands, and allow rapid adaptation to changes in technology, consumer preferences and market conditions.  
The greatest danger surrounding artificial intelligence isn’t fantastical scenarios like the rogue AI of Mission Impossible – it’s government mandates that could slow or even stop beneficial innovation.  
While excessive regulation is a challenge for all innovators, its burden will primarily fall on startups and small businesses. It can be particularly challenging for startups to navigate a complex regulatory landscape where cash-strapped entrepreneurs must hire compliance experts and legal counsel. Money spent on lawyers means fewer resources for research, development, hiring and growth. 
That means fewer devices and tools that can help us cure disease, make transportation safer or address pressing social issues. As the Biden administration moves forward with its AI plan, senior officials should draw inspiration from the dawn of the Internet era and recognize that a light-touch approach will best serve the United States. 

Learn more about the Executive Order on AI. See for yourself what today’s innovators are accomplishing when CES returns to Las Vegas January 9-12. Exhibitors in the AI category, hundreds of them with even more anticipated, include Amazon, Caterpillar, Hyundai Motor Company, IBM, John Deere, Qualcomm and Samsung. Keynotes and sessions will explore breakthroughs and the technology’s potential. Get an insider’s look at forces and indicators that bear on AI; check out scheduled programming for the CES 2024 and browse session titles for the Innovation Policy Summit and the Research Summit.

For a more curated experience, take the AI show tour presented by StoryTech. The tour will highlight AI use cases across industries, and showcase the technology in automation and machine learning, spatial computing and more.

Register for CES 2024 today to discover how the world is changing as AI evolves.

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