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High hopes for AI and tech during the State of the Union

President Biden speaking with an American flag behind him

Biden on Feb. 9, 2023. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

AI policy watchers in Washington are hoping President Biden's State of the Union address Thursday night will tackle the game-changing technology in detail.

Why it matters: Biden acknowledging its importance in the SOTU would be seen as a boost to those drafting policy recommendations and advocating for funding for research and government agencies.

Reality check: Biden has re-election to worry about, and will surely focus most of his address to the nation on his administration's accomplishments on the economy and making his case for another four years.

State of play: His administration has been busy on AI, rolling out a massive executive order on it last year, with agencies scrambling to meet its many deadlines under tight budgets.

  • Although Congress has laid out a bold agenda for getting a regulatory framework in place for AI, the key agencies responsible for doing so are underfunded in the latest budget, as we reported, making progress harder.
  • And bipartisan agreement on laws in an election year is a tough prospect.
  • "Without national technology laws [on AI], the U.S. will continue its trend toward a complicated web of laws and uncertainty across the country that risks holding back the economy," said Craig Albright, senior vice president for government relations at BSA.

The big picture: It's not just AI on people's tech SOTU agendas — sources told Axios that Biden is expected to touch on the topic of children's online privacy.

  • He may also bring up electric vehicles, data and China, the topic of another Biden administration initiative with the Department of Commerce.

What they're saying: "I hope the president underscores his administration's ongoing focus on AI governance — emphasizing that the U.S. will lead not just in AI innovation, but in responsible AI innovation that respects people's rights and advances our democracy," said Alexandra Givens, CEO of CDT.

Friction point: Biden mentioned kids' online safety in his SOTU the past two years, but no new protections have been passed, despite momentum and hearings with tech CEOs.

  • "The president should remind the Congress in no uncertain terms that it is not enough to have Mark Zuckerberg apologize on camera to parents whose children have died from suicide related to their experiences on social media," said James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media.
  • Steyer continued: "Our country needs the president's continued leadership on AI safety and trust and putting appropriate guardrails on this huge new technology that will dramatically impact kids and families."
  • Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay: "We hope the president will go further this year and name the Kids Online Safety Act and the Children and Teens' Privacy Protection Act as the only two bipartisan bills that would address social media's role in facilitating a wide range of online harms for young people."

Fun fact: Rep. Anna Eshoo will bring Fei-Fei Li, co-director of Stanford's Human-Centered AI Institute who has worked on government AI initiatives, as her guest to SOTU.

  • "The invitation is a recognition that officials in Washington have heard our message loud and clear that America must urgently apply a moonshot mentality to ensure we lead on AI responsibly and steward AI's integration in our society," said Li.

What we're watching: Other sources have told us they hope Biden mentions:

  • tech antitrust and support for upping the budgets of the FTC and DOJ
  • strengthening unions and worker protections as AI changes workplaces
  • funding the regional tech hubs that are part of the CHIPS Act
  • passing a national privacy law
  • affordable internet access for all Americans.
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