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Biden and tech leaders announce commitments to manage artificial intelligence


President Biden gathered leaders of major tech companies, including Google and Microsoft, at the White House today. There, they announced a set of commitments that they are making to manage artificial intelligence.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: These commitments are real, and they're concrete. They're going to help fulfill - the industry fulfill its fundamental obligation to Americans to develop safe, secure and trustworthy technologies.

CHANG: These voluntary agreements will go into effect immediately, but there are limits on what they can actually accomplish. NPR's Deepa Shivaram joins us now in the studio to explain more. Hey, Deepa.


CHANG: So what are the White House and tech companies specifically promising to do voluntarily?

SHIVARAM: Voluntarily, right. So these agreements announced today are from seven tech companies, and they've worked with the White House for the past 10 weeks on coming up with these commitments. President Biden reiterated today that because this AI technology is just progressing at such a rapid pace, they want to manage the risks of AI, but they also want to learn more about how it can benefit society.


SHIVARAM: So in these agreements, the companies have agreed to being transparent in their development process. They're testing their technology both internally and externally, and they committed to avoid bias and discrimination. And there's also protections in there that say that these companies will use things like a watermarking system so users know when content is AI-generated. But like you mentioned before, these are voluntary agreements. So while many experts on AI have said this is a positive first step for the Biden administration to take, there isn't really a fleshed-out system here to hold these companies accountable if they don't follow through on these commitments. And that's where congressional action is really going to have to come in.

CHANG: OK. And there is still so much that we don't know about what's to come from AI, so let me ask you, why did the White House prioritize these particular agreements from tech companies first?

SHIVARAM: Well, the White House is really adamant that these actions are just a start, and that's rhetoric that you'll hear over and over again - that there's more coming. But they believe that these seven tech companies are the ones leading in AI development, and this announcement serves as sort of a launching-off point for future regulation. But I'll tell you not everyone agrees with that decision. I spoke with Ifeoma Ajunwa, a law professor at Emory who studies the intersection of AI and workers, and she says tech companies really shouldn't be the ones who are in the lead on this conversation.

IFEOMA AJUNWA: Tech leaders should definitely have a seat at the table for this conversation. We also want to ensure that we are including other voices that don't have a profit motive.

SHIVARAM: Right. And other experts say that getting these big tech companies involved gives already-large corporations a leg up on setting the agenda on AI management. And it could be limiting for some smaller startups, who are also making a lot of advancement on AI technology. But it's also important to point out here that the White House has been holding listening sessions with other stakeholders - like civil rights leaders, union leaders - as they roll out these actions. So tech companies are definitely not the only groups that they're talking to.

CHANG: OK. Well, then speaking of that, what else are we expecting the White House to do on AI?

SHIVARAM: The White House says they'll be announcing executive actions in the coming weeks, although we don't know exactly what will be included in that yet. But whatever actions are taken will reflect a document that the administration put out last year called the AI Bill of Rights that took a year to put together. It lays out a blueprint for how AI could be regulated and used. And we can also expect to see the Office of Management and Budget roll out guidance to federal agencies to inform them on how AI can and cannot be utilized in government work. The big-picture thing to keep in mind about AI development is that it's moving at such a rapid pace...

CHANG: Yeah.

SHIVARAM: ...And impacting so many different industries. So many of these announcements coming from the White House, including what will come from OMB, like I mentioned, will be open for public comment and engagement. And the White House says that that helps them inform the guidelines that they're putting out.

CHANG: That is NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Thank you, Deepa.

SHIVARAM: Thank you.


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