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Uncle Sam threatens AI with its nastiest weapon: An audit

Commerce Dept knows it needs to know more as it ponders regulation

The Biden Administration on Tuesday issued a formal request for public comments to help shape potential policies that would improve accountability of artificial intelligence products and services.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the US government's Department of Commerce, opened an "AI Accountability Request for Comment" that "seeks feedback on what policies can support the development of AI audits, assessments, certifications and other mechanisms to create earned trust in AI systems," the official body wrote

"Much as financial audits create trust in the accuracy of a business' financial statements, so for AI, such mechanisms can help provide assurance that an AI system is trustworthy. Just as financial accountability required policy and governance to develop, so too will AI system accountability."

The agency, which is responsible for advising the President on technological and regulatory matters related to the telecommunications industry, is interested in what the federal government needs to know to effectively audit AI products. 

Officials want to encourage regulators and businesses to work together and support the responsible deployment and development of the technology. The agency expects it will need to tune policies to the needs of industries like healthcare or employment that both record personal data, but have different privacy requirements.

Generative AI is currently booming. Analysts believe the technology will disrupt the labour market and change the nature of many jobs, but have also sounded the alarm over the potential dangers generative AI poses because it often produces false, or biased, responses. 

The NTIA's AI Accountability Request for Comment could be the first step towards regulation in the US. Although the Biden Administration has issued guidance aimed at protecting US democracy as the technology encroaches on society in its AI Bill of Rights, it has stopped short of passing any laws.

Last week President Biden met his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to discuss artificial intelligence concerns. "AI can help deal with some very difficult challenges like disease and climate change, but we also have to address the potential risks to our society, to our economy, to our national security," he said after that chat. He admitted that it "remains to be seen" whether AI is dangerous. ®

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