White House wants to hold big tech accountable in new artificial intelligence ‘blueprint’


Artificial intelligence concept of big data or cyber security. 3D illustration (Getty images)

WASHINGTON — The White House today released a “blueprint” to help guide the development and use of artificial intelligence and automated systems with a focus on protecting the rights of consumers, a step that the White House says aims to hold big technology companies accountable and one that comes in the wake of the Defense Department’s own ethical AI pledges.

“Automated technologies are driving remarkable innovations and shaping important decisions that impact people’s rights, opportunities, and access,” Alondra Nelson, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) deputy director for science and society, said in a statement. “The Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights is for everyone who interacts daily with these powerful technologies — and every person whose life has been altered by unaccountable algorithms.” 

The 73-page document [PDF], published by the OSTP, outlines five “common sense protections”: safe and effective systems; algorithmic discrimination protections; data privacy (both with built-in protections and having agency over how data is used); notice and explanation (knowing when an automated system is being used and why); and human alternatives, consideration and fallback (being able to opt out). 

The blueprint says it aims “to empower people, companies, and policymakers across the United States and meet President [Joe] Biden’s call to hold big technology accountable, protect the civil rights of Americans, and ensure technology is working for the American people.” 

The document lists examples of automated systems for which the blueprint should be considered, including systems with potential privacy impacts like those that perform big data analytics and surveillance systems like real-time facial recognition systems.

Although the document doesn’t directly provide specific guidelines for the Defense Department, the Pentagon has undeniably become one of the largest customers for cutting edge tech for AI and automation on the battlefield of the future. Two years ago the DoD adopted its own AI Ethics Principles — a set of five vague broad principles for the ethical use of AI — and this year DoD released its long-awaited Responsible AI Strategy and Implementation Pathway in June.

The implementation of DoD’s AI Ethical Principles and Responsible AI Implementation Pathway can be informed by the White House’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights “where feasible,” according to the document released today.

RELATED: Pentagon’s Long-Awaited ‘Responsible AI’ Pathway Highlights Flexibility, ‘Trust’

“To ensure that our citizens, warfighters, and leaders can trust the outputs of DoD AI capabilities, DoD must demonstrate that our military’s steadfast commitment to lawful and ethical behavior apply when designing, developing, testing, procuring, deploying, and using AI,” Kathleen Hicks, deputy secretary of defense, said in a statement accompanying the Responsible AI Strategy and Implementation Pathway [PDF].

Speaking at a White House event today after the blueprint was released, Arati Prabhaker, director of OSTP, said the blueprint will help make sure “innovation opens the door to the future that we all want for this country” in an increasingly data-dense world. 

”We’re talking about privacy and security. We’re talking about equal rights and civil rights, equal treatment. These are the bedrock of our democracy,” Prabhaker said. “And so it’s really imperative that we get this right as this new era with these new technologies is unfolding.” 

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