April 13, 2024

Image for article titled Chief AI officers will now be mandated for all federal agencies

Photo: Evelyn Hockstein (Reuters)

As the use of artificial intelligence continues to spread at all levels, the U.S. government wants to staff up federal agencies with AI experts — or, if they don’t, stop using the technology.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is requiring U.S. federal agencies to designate chief AI officers, Vice President Kamala Harris announced in a briefing Thursday. These new additions to the C-suite will be responsible for coordinating the use of AI across agencies as part of a push to heighten accountability and oversight for the use of the technology within the federal government.

And by the summer, the Biden administration said it will hire 100 AI professionals to “promote the trustworthy and safe use of AI.”

The agencies will have until December to implement safeguards to test and monitor the impact their use of AI has on the public, mitigate risks of algorithmic discrimination, and improve transparency around government use of AI. If the agency isn’t able to apply the appropriate safeguards in time, the White House said that it must cease its use of AI, unless it’s able to justify why doing so would increase safety risks or create an “unacceptable impediment” to key agency operations.

The state of AI in the U.S. government

AI is more than just the chatbots and image generators that people have become widely familiar with (sometimes for the wrong reasons). Federal agencies across the board have begun to employ AI for a wide swathe of official activities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, uses the tool to analyze weather hazards, while examiners at the Patent and Trademark Office employ AI tools in judging new patent applications.

But with the new policy, the Biden administration is hoping to allay questions and concerns about when and how AI is being used by government officials and agencies.

The OMB rules are part and parcel of the sweeping AI executive order, signed by President Joe Biden last October, that seeks to regulate the burgeoning technology and wrangle some of the challenges that come with it. Chief among them is the issue of bias in algorithms.

Local governments have also taken a crack at regulating AI and algorithmic bias. Last July, New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection began enforcing a new law requiring increased transparency from employers that use AI in hiring and promotion decisions and mandating annual audits at companies for potential bias.

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