White House Unveils Initiatives to Reduce Risks of AI

The White House on Thursday announced its first new initiatives aimed at taming the risks of artificial intelligence since a boom in A.I.-powered chatbots has prompted growing calls to regulate the technology.

The National Science Foundation plans to spend $140 million on new research centers devoted to A.I., White House officials said. The administration also pledged to release draft guidelines for government agencies to ensure that their use of A.I. safeguards “the American people’s rights and safety,” adding that several A.I. companies had agreed to make their products available for scrutiny in August at a cybersecurity conference.

The announcements came hours before Vice President Kamala Harris and other administration officials were scheduled to meet with the chief executives of Google, Microsoft, OpenAI, the maker of the popular ChatGPT chatbot, and Anthropic, an A.I. start-up, to discuss the technology. A senior administration official said on Wednesday that the White House planned to impress upon the companies that they had a responsibility to address the risks of new A.I. developments. The White House has been under growing pressure to police A.I. that is capable of crafting sophisticated prose and lifelike images. The explosion of interest in the technology began last year when OpenAI released ChatGPT to the public and people immediately began using it to search for information, do schoolwork and assist them with their job. Since then, some of the biggest tech companies have rushed to incorporate chatbots into their products and accelerated A.I. research, while venture capitalists have poured money into A.I. start-ups.

But the A.I. boom has also raised questions about how the technology will transform economies, shake up geopolitics and bolster criminal activity. Critics have worried that many A.I. systems are opaque but extremely powerful, with the potential to make discriminatory decisions, replace people in their jobs, spread disinformation and perhaps even break the law on their own.

President Biden recently said that it “remains to be seen” whether A.I. is dangerous, and some of his top appointees have pledged to intervene if the technology is used in a harmful way.

Sam Altman, standing, the chief executive of OpenAI, will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday. Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Spokeswomen for Google and Microsoft declined to comment ahead of the White House meeting. A spokesman for Anthropic confirmed the company would be attending. A spokeswoman for OpenAI did not respond to a request for comment.

The announcements build on earlier efforts by the administration to place guardrails on A.I. Last year, the White House released what it called a “Blueprint for an A.I. Bill of Rights,” which said that automated systems should protect users’ data privacy, shield them from discriminatory outcomes and make clear why certain actions were taken. In January, the Commerce Department also released a framework for reducing risk in A.I. development, which had been in the works for years.

The introduction of chatbots like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard has put huge pressure on governments to act. The European Union, which had already been negotiating regulations to A.I., has faced new demands to regulate a broader swath of A.I., instead of just systems seen as inherently high risk.

In the United States, members of Congress, including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, have moved to draft or propose legislation to regulate A.I. But concrete steps to rein in the technology in the country may be more likely to come first from law enforcement agencies in Washington.

A group of government agencies pledged in April to “monitor the development and use of automated systems and promote responsible innovation,” while punishing violations of the law committed using the technology.

In a guest essay in The New York Times on Wednesday, Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, said the nation was at a “key decision point” with A.I. She likened the technology’s recent developments to the birth of tech giants like Google and Facebook, and she warned that, without proper regulation, the technology could entrench the power of the biggest tech companies and give scammers a potent tool.

“As the use of A.I. becomes more widespread, public officials have a responsibility to ensure this hard-learned history doesn’t repeat itself,” she said.