The White House’s recent efforts to chart a national artificial intelligence (AI) policy are welcome and, frankly, overdue. Funding for AI research and updating agency IT systems is a good start. So is guidance for agencies as they begin to regulate industry use of AI. But there’s a glaring gap: The White House has been silent about the rules that apply when agencies use AI to perform critical governance tasks.
This matters because, of all the ways AI is transforming our world, some of the most worrying come at the intersection of AI and the awesome power of the state. AI drives the facial recognition police use to surveil citizens. It enables the autonomous weapons changing warfare. And it powers the tools judges use to make life-changing bail, sentencing and parole decisions. Concerns about each have fueled debate and, as to facial recognition in particular, new laws banning use.
Sitting just beyond the headlines, however, is a little-known fact: AI use already is pervasive in government. Prohibition for most uses is not an option, or at least not a wise one. Needed instead is a frank conversation about how to give the government the resources it needs to develop high-quality and fairly deployed AI tools and build sensible accountability mechanisms around their use.