Shiny blue brain

Biden proposes an artificial intelligence ‘Bill of Rights’ blueprint

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The White House has unveiled a set of guidelines aimed at encouraging companies to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) technologies more responsibly and protecting consumers from its greatest dangers.

Joe Biden's administration has unveiled a new AI Bill of Rights, which outlines five protections internet users should have in the AI age.

The guidelines do not set out specific enforcement actions, but are instead intended as a call to action for the safeguarding of digital and civil rights in an AI-fuelled world, officials said. These can include algorithms used for recruitment or financial decisions that discriminate against women or people of colour, which has not been an uncommon occurrence. 

The Bill of Rights lays out five principles that should guide the design, use and deployment of automated systems. These state that AI should be safe, should not discriminate, should violate data privacy, should not be used without the user's knowledge and consent, and should not be the only point of contact with a customer.

“This blueprint is for the older Americans denied critical health benefits because of an algorithm change," said the White House in a blog post announcing the bill. 

"The student erroneously accused of cheating by AI-enabled video surveillance. The fathers wrongfully arrested because of facial-recognition technology. The black Americans blocked from a kidney transplant after an AI assumed they were at lesser risk for kidney disease. It is for everyone who interacts daily with these technologies – and every person whose life has been altered by an unaccountable algorithm.”

For years, US President Joe Biden has called for better privacy safeguards and for tech companies to stop collecting data. However, despite being home to some of the world’s biggest tech and AI companies, the country is one of the only Western nations without clear guidance on how to protect its citizens against the dangers of AI misuse.

The White House said the blueprint represents a major advance in the administration's agenda to hold technology companies accountable and highlighted various federal agencies' commitments to weighing new rules and studying the specific impacts of AI technologies.

“Much more than a set of principles, this is a blueprint to empower the American people to expect better and demand better from their technologies,” said Alondra Nelson, the acting director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, during a press briefing. 

The document emerged after a year-long consultation with more than two dozen different departments and incorporates feedback from civil society groups, technologists, industry researchers and tech companies including Palantir and Microsoft, officials said. 

Over recent years, the use of artificial intelligence tools has grown exponentially, to the point of becoming almost an everyday feature of the internet. PwC has estimated that AI could contribute up to $15.7tn (£11.1tn) to global economies by 2030, and nations like China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UK have stepped up to declare their intentions to become global centres for AI innovation.

The guidelines are not legally binding in any way, and there are currently no federal laws regulating the use of these technologies, such as facial-recognition software, which has been criticised by privacy and digital rights groups for years over privacy issues and leading to potential wrongful arrests when used by police forces.

In a statement, Alexandra Reeve Givens, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington DC-based nonprofit, said: “Today’s agency actions are valuable, but they would be even more effective if they were built on a foundation set up by a comprehensive federal privacy law.”

ReNika Moore, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program, called the principles “an important step in addressing the harms of AI” and added that “there should be no loopholes or carve-outs for these protections".

“It’s critical that the Biden administration use all levers available to make the promises of the Bill of Rights blueprint a reality,” Moore said.

However, the White House has stated it hopes the blueprint can convince tech companies to take additional steps to protect consumers, including clearly explaining how and why an automated system is in use and designing AI systems to be equitable.

In addition, the white paper also recognises the potential benefits to society that AI tools can have when used in an ethical way, such as in helping farmers grow food more efficiently, identifying diseases or even tackling racism.

"Fuelled by the power of American innovation, these tools hold the potential to redefine every part of our society and make life better for everyone. This important progress must not come at the price of civil rights or democratic values," the document said.

Earlier this month, the European Commission proposed an AI Liability Directive that would help people harmed by AI and digital devices such as drones, robots and smart-home systems. 

The bill is expected to complement the two landmark rules passed in 2022 – the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act – that aim to develop what the EU describes as a “rulebook” for online platforms, with the goal of creating “a safer and more open digital space, grounded in respect for fundamental rights”.

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