During the United States’ second Summit for Democracy held in Washington, D.C. this week, the White House highlighted key steps the Biden-Harris administration has taken to advance innovation in emerging technologies, as well as unveiled a slew of new initiatives to continue to build on its work.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Arati Prabhakar announced actions the Federal government will take when it comes to both yielding the power of these new technologies and mitigating their risks.

“President Biden often says we have to prove that democracy works in the 21st Century,” Prabhakar said during the third day of the summit held at the Washington Convention Center in downtown D.C. “Science, technology, and innovation are essential to this task – because that’s how we open doors to step beyond the limitations of today into a different tomorrow, into a better tomorrow.”

“We’re living in a time of rapid technological innovation,” she continued, adding “Artificial intelligence (AI), biological technologies, new energy technologies, advances in the social sciences. Each of these brings extraordinary potential, and extraordinary risks.”

The OSTP director began to explain the age-old dilemma of technology’s “raw” power – explaining that history shows it has been used for “both good and ill.”

“AI is the most powerful technology of our times,” she explained. “To seize its benefits, we must start by tackling its risks.”

Myriad of New Initiatives

Prabhakar said that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) launched its Trustworthy and Responsible AI Resource Center for Risk Management following the unveiling of its AI Risk Management Framework.

The online resource center will be a central hub for AI creators to access foundational content, technical documents, and toolkits to enable the responsible development and use of the technology, Prabhakar said. The website will include standards, measurement methods, metrics, and data sets.

OSTP also launched its National Strategy to Advance Privacy-Preserving Data Sharing and Analytics during the summit.

“The most interesting data in the world is about people. And that makes it the most dangerous data in the world as well,” Prabhakar said. “This strategy is a roadmap to use privacy enhancing technologies to navigate this quandary.”

The agency also launched National Objectives for Digital Assets Research and Development, which outline its priorities for the responsible research and development of digital assets. These objectives will help developers of digital assets better reinforce democratic principles and protect consumers by default, the White House said.

Days before the Summit for Democracy began, President Biden signed an executive order that prohibits the operational use of commercial spyware by the government when it poses significant security risks or significant risks of improper use by a foreign government.

The Department of State joined 44 other nation-states in endorsing new Guiding Principles on Government Use of Surveillance Technologies. These principles outline how governments can respect democratic values and protect human rights as they leverage surveillance technologies.

The principles are intended to prevent the misuse of surveillance technologies by governments to enable human rights abuses in the use of internet controls; pairing video surveillance with artificial intelligence-driven tools; and the use of big data analytic tools.

Building on Past Policy

All of these initiatives, Prabhakar said, build on recent actions that the Federal government has taken, following through on “implementing a series of challenges to advance democracy-affirming technologies.”

During her March 30 speech, Prabhakar specifically highlighted OSTP’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, NIST’s AI Risk Management Framework, the White House’s National AI Research Resource, and President Biden’s executive order that promotes data equity.

“As democracies, we have the great opportunity and great responsibility to develop and use emerging technologies to reinforce our most important values,” she said. “Answers for the immense problems we face aren’t one-size-fits-all – they must be tailored to meet the local context.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan