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‘Devil in the details’ of AI safeguards deal

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Becka Bowyer

The White House has announced leading artificial intelligence companies in the U.S. have agreed to voluntary commitments regarding the technology’s development.

Frank Pasquale

Professor of Law

Frank Pasquale, professor at Cornell University and Cornell Tech, is an expert on the law of artificial intelligence, algorithms and machine learning. His books include The Black Box Society and New Laws of Robotics.

Pasquale says:

The rapid development of AI hangs in a legal balance now, as jurisdictions around the world decide just how much lawbreaking and social harm to tolerate from it. Europe and China are racing ahead with AI, data, and digital markets regulation while the U.S. falls further behind. In other words: other jurisdictions are setting what are becoming global standards, while the U.S. will increasingly need to abide by such rules. In that context, the new White House commitments from leading AI firms are welcome news. They promise to bring some basic forms of transparency and accountability to an industry in dire need of them. The watermarking commitment (to identify AI-generated materials) is particularly heartening, given AI use in disinformation and cheating in educational contexts.

“However, the devil will be in the details. We need to know the scope of transparency here, and who will be permitted to conduct research on the firms' work. Trade secrecy often trumps public-spirited commitments. Also, what happens if a firm departs from the stated commitments? If there is no mechanism for punishing such firms, how do ‘voluntary commitments’ differ from a PR statement by the firms? Finally, clarifying the scope of the commitments is critical. In the past, tech firms have over-promised and under-delivered regarding data sharing. I only hope that this time will be different. I also hope that vital regulation and investigation of AI from agencies ranging from the EEOC to the CFPB to the FTC will continue to develop.”

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