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President Biden signs executive order for AI oversight


With artificial intelligence, it can be hard to tell when something is real or a deepfake, even when you are president of the United States.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Fraudsters can take three-second - and you all know this - three-second recording of your voice. I've watched one of me on a couple (inaudible).


BIDEN: I said, when the hell did I say that?


KELLY: That, of course, was President Biden today, for real, as he announced a new executive order to create some oversight of these systems, especially the kinds of new AI systems with big national security or public health risks. NPR's Deepa Shivaram has been digging into this announcement. Hey there, Deepa.


KELLY: Tell me more about what this order is designed to accomplish.

SHIVARAM: Yeah. I mean, look. AI impacts every aspect of society, so every agency, every department is involved with what this executive order calls for, which is creating new standards on how AI can be implemented in ways that are safe and secure and fair when it comes to education, housing, law enforcement, health care. So this EO was notable in how wide-reaching it is. But it's also significant because it really tries to hold large-scale AI developers accountable, especially in the realm of national security. With this new order, AI developers that create this high-stakes technology will have to abide by the testing rules created by the federal government and share those results with the government. In this case, the White House has invoked the Defense Production Act to enforce that, which expands presidential authority in times of crisis.

KELLY: You know, one of the things that is striking about the challenge here, and I know President Biden himself has acknowledged this, is how many stakeholders there are. You know, you're talking tech leaders, civil right leaders - civil rights leaders, labor unions. What kind of reaction are you hearing so far?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, I mean, the majority of folks I've talked to have been pretty impressed with how much this executive order is trying to accomplish. Experts I've talked to are feeling really positive about things like standardizing testing for AI technology, which is called red teaming. That being said, there aren't much enforcement elements in this when it comes to more everyday things like AI being used in discriminatory hiring practices. Ifeoma Ajunwa is a professor at Emory University and she says the everyday risks that Americans are experiencing with AI are addressed in the executive order, but it's not as much of a focus as she wanted to see.

IFEOMA AJUNWA: The actual present danger is not AI becoming too intelligent. It's more that humans are using AI in ways that are counter to our democratic beliefs about equal opportunity and equal protection.

SHIVARAM: Now, of course, the big part of enforcement and regulation here is that it has to come from Congress, right? And that's a huge task. Right now, there's a good bit of bipartisan interest in moving forward on AI legislation. But what form that comes in - if it's one big law or a bunch of smaller laws - that's very unclear. Biden did say today that he is meeting with bipartisan groups of Congress members tomorrow on this topic. So that is something to keep an eye out for.

KELLY: Fair to say the federal government has an uneven track record on regulating technology. Is this the White House playing catch-up?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, I mean, that's a great point, especially if you recall the disaster of the rollout of the website for Obamacare...

KELLY: Yeah.

SHIVARAM: ...Or even - right? - even when tech leaders have come to testify in Congress and legislators don't really know how Facebook works. I mean, we've seen that, right? So throughout this process with AI, I think it's been really clear that the White House doesn't want to repeat those mistakes. And they recognize that this technology is rapidly developing. What the public is seeing now may be different than what people see six months from now. So there is a sense of urgency from the White House that the federal workforce needs to recruit more talent from within the country and also from around the world. The EO mentions speeding up visa processes for people in other countries to come study and work on AI in the U.S.

KELLY: That is NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Thanks so much.

SHIVARAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.