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Exclusive: Biden's AI talent boost

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Commerce Department is beefing up its AI Safety Institute with key hires, according to an announcement shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: The institute was created to help Commerce carry out its many responsibilities under President Biden's landmark AI executive order.

Paul Christiano will be head of AI safety, designing and conducting tests of the most cutting-edge models that pose national security concerns.

  • Christiano previously ran a team at OpenAI — among the most closely watched and influential AI companies — where he pioneered safety techniques.

Mara Quintero Campbell will be chief of staff and acting chief operating officer.

  • Campbell previously ran major projects under Commerce's Economic Development Administration, including on the CHIPS and Science Act and COVID response.

Other hires include:

  • Adam Russell, from the University of Southern California, as chief vision officer.
  • Rob Reich will be on public service leave from Stanford University to serve as senior advisor.
  • Mark Latonero, who was most recently at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will be head of international engagement.

"We are building a strong team across government to keep pace with this technology, protect our interests, and shape it in accordance with our values," White House Deputy Chief of Staff Bruce Reed said.

  • NIST Director Laurie E. Locascio said each hire brings "unique experiences that will help the institute build a solid foundation for AI safety going into the future."

What they're saying: Former national security advisor Susan Rice said Christiano "is precisely the caliber of expert we need now at this critical new institution."

  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace President Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar said Christiano's hiring shows that Commerce "is serious about dealing with AI risks in a sensible, neutral, and balanced way as global use of AI increases and the scale of technological change picks up."
  • "To safeguard our global leadership on responsible AI and ensure we're equipped to fulfill our mission to mitigate the risks of AI and harness its benefits, we need the top talent our nation has to offer," said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.

Yes, but: Staff alone won't be enough to accomplish the Biden administration's AI goals.

  • NIST, where the AI Safety Institute is housed, is short on cash and asking Congress for $65 million to implement key components of the AI executive order.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.

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