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As automated systems, particularly those powered by artificial intelligence (AI), are becoming increasingly common in our daily lives, four federal agencies pledged on Tuesday to uphold America’s commitment to the core principles of fairness, equality and justice.
In a joint statement released today, the Federal Trade Commission, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlined a commitment to enforce their respective laws and regulations to promote responsible innovation in automated systems.
The agencies said they would work together to ensure that automated systems are designed, developed and deployed in ways that respect civil rights, fair competition, consumer protection and equal opportunity. They also said they would engage with stakeholders including industry, academia, civil society and the public to foster awareness and understanding of the benefits and challenges of automated systems.
Mixed reception from the AI and legal community
The statement received mixed reviews from legal experts and members of the AI community. The U.S. approach to AI risk has previously been criticized for being too fragmented, distributed across federal agencies without any unifying principles, particularly when compared to the EU. This fragmentation has raised questions about potential challenges in international coordination and cooperation on AI development and regulation.
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“I am sorely disappointed,” said Brad Newman, a partner at Baker and McKenzie LLP who specializes in AI matters, in an interview with VentureBeat. “It is a nothing burger. It offers no new guidance, no new advice or insight.
“I also think it’s anti-innovation,” he added, “because it’s not really explaining what the practice is that is lawful — and what is unlawful vis-à-vis AI. It’s just saying discrimination and bias are bad, but there are no specifics, nothing actionable. It feels political.”
Jesse Lehrich, former foreign policy spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and cofounder of Accountable Tech, a nonprofit aiming to “rein in Big Tech,” praised the joint statement. In a tweet, he said the statement “[makes] clear AI is not exempt from existing non-discrimination laws & enforcement authority.”
Suresh Venkatasubramanian, former AI advisor to the Biden Administration, also reviewed the statement in a favorable manner. He tweeted, “This is a strong statement from the chairs of federal enforcement agencies.”
Complexities and uncertainties of AI legislation
The statement comes amid growing concerns about the potential impacts of AI and automated systems on various aspects of society, such as employment, education, health care and criminal justice. Critics have warned that AI, in particular, can reflect and amplify human biases, errors and prejudices, leading to unfair or harmful outcomes for individuals or groups.
The agencies acknowledged that automated systems are not inherently neutral or objective, and that they can be influenced by the data, algorithms and human choices that shape them. They said they would use their authority and expertise to prevent and remedy any violations of the law by entities that use or provide this kind of technology.
The statement also highlighted the importance of transparency, accountability and oversight in AI and automated systems, saying that these are essential for building trust and confidence among consumers and the public. The agencies said they would encourage and support efforts to ensure that automated systems are explainable, auditable and responsive to feedback.
The agencies said they hoped their joint statement would serve as a “call to action” for all stakeholders involved in the development and use of automated systems to uphold the values of fairness, equality and justice.
“We recognize that achieving these goals will require sustained collaboration and dialogue among a diverse range of actors,” the statement said. “We look forward to working with our partners across the government and beyond to advance responsible innovation in automated systems for the benefit of all Americans.”
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