At almost 20,000 words, President Biden’s behemoth executive order on AI mandates a laundry list of actions from federal departments and agencies. The Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology needs to ensure that companies submit safety test results and develop “guidelines and best practices, with the aim of promoting consensus industry standards, for developing and deploying safe, secure, and trustworthy AI systems.” The Council of Economic Advisors and the Department of Labor have to address the unemployment risks to workers and how to mitigate them. Other agencies have to identify the potential for AI to be misused to create weapons and biohazards.
While there’s a lot to like here, we have to ask: are we focusing so much on the risks that we are failing to invest in and maximize the potential for AI to do good?
To be sure, the executive order mentions positive goals such as promoting American competitiveness. The order alludes to the fact that AI can transform education through personalized tutoring, and offers the promise of increased productivity. But the narrative surrounding AI–and most of this 111-page executive order–is cautionary.