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Biden signs order on AI safeguards days ahead of international security summit

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US President Joe Biden on Monday signed an ambitious executive order on artificial intelligence that seeks to balance the needs of cutting-edge technology companies with national security and consumer rights, creating an early set of guardrails that could be fortified by legislation and global agreements.

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Before signing the order, Biden said AI is driving change at “warp speed” and carries tremendous potential as well as perils.

“AI is all around us,” Biden said. “To realise the promise of AI and avoid the risk, we need to govern this technology.”

The most advanced generation of AI models have prompted concerns around everything from job losses and cyber attacks to humans losing control of the systems they have designed.

The order is an initial step that is meant to ensure that AI is trustworthy and helpful, rather than deceptive and destructive. The order – which will likely need to be augmented by congressional action – seeks to steer how AI is developed so that companies can profit without putting public safety in jeopardy.

Using the Defense Production Act, the order requires leading AI developers to share safety test results and other information with the government. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is to create standards to ensure AI tools are safe and secure before public release.

The Commerce Department is to issue guidance to label and watermark AI-generated content to help differentiate between authentic interactions and those generated by software. The extensive order touches on matters of privacy, civil rights, consumer protections, scientific research and worker rights.

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients recalled Biden giving his staff a directive when formulating the order to move with urgency.

“We can’t move at a normal government pace,” Zients said the Democratic president told him. “We have to move as fast, if not faster, than the technology itself.”

The guidance within the order is to be implemented and fulfilled over a period of 90 days to one year.

The order builds on voluntary commitments already made by technology companies. It’s part of a broader strategy that administration officials say also includes congressional legislation and international diplomacy, a sign of the disruptions already caused by the introduction of new AI tools such as ChatGPT that can generate text, images and sounds.

UK hosts AI safety summit

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hopes to carve out a prominent role for Britain as an AI safety hub at a two-day summit starting Wednesday that will focus on growing fears about the implications of so-called frontier AI.

Vice President Kamala Harris plans to attend along with other political leaders including EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Representatives from China are also expected to attend, as will academics and tech industry figures. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk plans to attend the summit, according to a UK government official.

“My vision, and our ultimate goal, should be to work towards a more international approach to safety where we collaborate with partners to ensure AI systems are safe before they are released,” the British leader said in a speech this week.

“We will push hard to agree the first-ever international statement about the nature of these risks,” he added, proposing the creation of an international expert panel similar to one formed for climate change.

Sunak and other leaders have increasingly joined the industry itself in arguing current regulation of frontier AI is likely insufficient for the challenges it will pose.

London, which initiated the gathering, has insisted it is taking the lead at the behest of Biden, and because the two countries have some of the leading companies in the sector.

But it has reportedly had to scale back its ambitions around ideas such as launching a new regulatory body amid a perceived lack of enthusiasm.

Governments around the world have been racing to establish AI protections, some of them tougher than the new US directives.

Ahead of the meeting, the G7 powers agreed on Monday on a non-binding “code of conduct” for companies developing the most advanced AI systems.

And in Rome, ministers from Italy, Germany and France called for an “innovation-friendly approach” to regulating AI in Europe, as they urged more investments to challenge the US and China.

After more than two years of deliberation, the EU is putting the final touches on a comprehensive set of regulations that targets the riskiest applications with the tightest restrictions. China, a key AI rival to the US, has also set some rules.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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