President Biden’s AI-facing executive order should be applauded

President Biden's recently-issued executive order that outlined his administration’s plan to promote “Safe, Secure and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence."

In years to come, we may look back at it as the birth of responsible artificial intelligence. President Biden’s recently-issued executive order that outlined his administration’s plan to promote “Safe, Secure and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence” represented a much-needed response to a growing problem: data privacy in AI systems.

Companies are being reckless with AI, putting the potential benefits of the technology ahead of data privacy. This is not a new condition. Historically, companies rush to adopt disruptive technology without fully considering potential ramifications. ChatGPT and Microsoft already have had AI-related breaches that grabbed headlines this year, and there will certainly be more as the popularity of the technology grows. Without the proper guardrails, these types of headline-grabbing incidents will further compromise consumer privacy.

The momentum propelling this historic executive order began earlier this year when OpenAI CEO Sam Altman appealed to Congress to consider stronger regulations around how companies use generative AI systems to avoid putting consumer privacy at risk. I praised Altman then, and have a similar enthusiasm for President Biden’s executive order.

The executive order is a responsible response to this emerging issue. The section titled “Protecting Americans’ Privacy” is especially poignant. This particular portion of the order considers the significant risks of consumer data exposure via generative AI and proactively calls on Congress to pass bipartisan data privacy legislation addressing four critical components.

Fast-tracking privacy-enhancing technologies

The order first asks Congress to protect Americans’ privacy “by prioritizing federal support for accelerating the development and use of privacy-preserving techniques.” Once locked away in databases, data lives in the cloud and is on the move, especially when used for AI. While privacy-preserving technologies have made tremendous progress, the push to find efficiencies via AI has made data protection a “bare minimum” exercise — monitoring data breaches rather than preventing them. This section of the order understands the critical nature of privacy-preserving techniques that will make organizations better positioned to protect data and infrastructure. As AI systems are being trained, data is continually protected, even in the case of a breach.

Strengthening of privacy research and development

Next, the executive order calls for creating a research coordination network that would promote “rapid breakthroughs and development” of privacy-preserving research and technologies and would work with the National Science Foundation to encourage the adoption of these technologies by federal agencies. This part of the order is incredibly encouraging because it further reiterates the importance of data security to protect the public as new technologies like generative AI emerge. The ways in which data exposure occurs — whether nefarious or accidental — continue to evolve, and the use of generative AI further complicates things. Having a federally funded group dedicated to researching this complex challenge is critical to finding ways to maintain data privacy in AI environments.

Reviewing means for AI-based data collection

Requirements for federal agencies do not stop there. According to the executive order, the suggested legislation would also include provisions to evaluate how federal agencies “collect and use commercially available information” and consider AI usage to strengthen data privacy guidance for federal agencies. Requiring federal agencies to adopt advanced technologies and set more stringent rules for data collection sets an excellent example for enterprises. It shows that the public sector is taking data privacy seriously, which is a positive sign when contrasted with other countries’ measures to protect consumer privacy.

Creating guidelines for privacy technology effectiveness

Another forward-thinking section of the executive order would require guidelines for proving the effectiveness of privacy-preserving techniques. In doing so, federal agencies will have to do more than just implement a solution; they will have to demonstrate efficacy. This provision is most critical because it asks agencies to be diligent in their vetting processes. It is easy to implement a technology or internal policy and assume you have taken the necessary steps to protect data, but is it working? Standards that evaluate how well solutions work are essential to ensuring the best possible protection, especially for federal agencies that should be held to the highest standards for protecting consumer data.

There is still so much to learn about AI, but our journey to harness its potential must be a responsible one. The potential damage is too great to ignore. I believe President Biden’s executive order is an excellent example of how governments can quickly progress to address emerging risks in ubiquitous technologies before problems expand to nearly irreversible proportions. The announcement is a positive first step, and all companies that use consumer data should take note and employ the necessary measures to ensure the safe and responsible use of AI.

Ameesh Divatia is co-founder and CEO of Baffle.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories