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Biden signs AI executive order, sparking agency work

A person signs a document while sitting

Biden signs the AI executive order Monday while Kamala Harris looks on in the East Room of the White House. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Tech groups lined up to praise the White House's AI executive order, but they noted the sprawling document's success will hinge on how the government executes its promises.

What's happening: President Biden on Monday signed the EO in a packed East Room, with children's online protection advocates, company executives, civil society leaders, lawmakers and cabinet members in attendance.

  • "Look, there's no greater change that I can think of in my life than AI," Biden said moments before signing the EO. "I know we can meet this moment with hope and not fear."
  • Biden joked about some AI pictures of him looking so real that anybody might be fooled, including the people in the room, and emphasized the importance of people knowing whether they are looking at AI-generated content: "Trust matters."

State of play: The White House's work is expansive, calling on various government agencies to issue guidance on responsible AI use in education, health care and cybersecurity.

  • Center for Data Innovation senior policy analyst Hodan Omaar said in a statement that "while the general direction for AI oversight is clear, the specifics of implementation remain uncertain, which means both companies and regulators will need to navigate uncharted waters."
  • Strategies in many of the areas where the administration calls for new standards (red-teaming or detecting AI content) don't exist yet and require continued research, Omaar added.
  • TechNet president Linda Moore said that the EO "will strengthen America's AI leadership" by bolstering the country's workforce, lowering the barrier to entry for AI research through a pilot of the National AI Resource Center, strengthening cyber defenses and improving health care and education.

Ultimately, it will be up to Congress to pass legislation with teeth — a reality the administration recognized in the order by calling on lawmakers to move bills on privacy and other fronts.

  • Biden drew applause in the White House when he talked about pressing lawmakers to pass bills focused on privacy and protecting children.
  • Speaking to reporters following Biden's remarks, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he and the bipartisan group working on AI in Congress would meet with Biden on Tuesday.
  • "It's about the hardest thing I've attempted to undertake legislating, because it's so complicated, it affects every aspect of society, and it's changing so fast," Schumer said.
  • "We're moving forward. We're asking the right questions. We're getting good answers. It's helping us prepare legislation."

What they're saying: Common Sense Media president Jim Steyer said in a statement that the "president correctly calls on Congress to pass bipartisan data privacy legislation to protect Americans, especially children, from the harmful effects of hasty and irresponsible AI development and deployment."

  • Adobe, which championed content authentication in the EO, wants Congress to pass an anti-impersonation bill to protect the rights of artists.
  • "We know there are glaring concerns surrounding AI bias, misinformation and disinformation. Now it's time for Congress to act and codify these safeguards into law," Rep. Yvette Clarke, whose Algorithmic Accountability Act helped lay the groundwork for the order's civil rights language, said in a statement.
  • House Science Committee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren called for Congress to "adequately fund our federal science agencies" to do the work in the EO, adding that lawmakers must also "consider further regulations to protect Americans against demonstrable harms from AI systems."

The other side: Some organizations say the EO would be overly burdensome.

  • "Broad regulatory measures in Biden's AI red tape wish list will result in stifling new companies and competitors from entering the marketplace and significantly expanding the power of the federal government over American innovation," said NetChoice VP Carl Szabo.

The intrigue: NetChoice members including Meta, Google and Amazon are also part of industry groups that welcomed the executive order.

  • As these rules get implemented, it'll become clearer where tech giants land on the administration's efforts. The tech industry has historically resisted regulation, and lobbying is a major reason why bills repeatedly fail on Capitol Hill.
  • Google Global Affairs president Kent Walker said that "we're reviewing today's executive order, and we are confident that our longstanding AI responsibility practices will align with its principles."
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