Biden’s executive order puts civil rights in the middle of the AI regulation discussion

On Oct. 4, 2022, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights: A Vision for Protecting Our Civil Rights in the Algorithmic Age. The blueprint launched a conversation about how artificial intelligence innovation can proceed under multiple fair principles. These include safe and effective systems, algorithmic discrimination protections, privacy and transparency.

A growing body of evidence highlights the civil and consumer rights that AI and automated decision-making jeopardize. Communities that have faced the most egregious discrimination historically now face complex and highly opaque forms of discrimination under AI systems. This discrimination occurs in employment, housing, voting, lending, criminal justice, social media, ad tech targeting, surveillance and profiling. For example, there have been cases of AI systems contributing to discrimination against women in hiring and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.

In the months that followed the blueprint’s release, the arrival of generative AI systems like ChatGPT added urgency to discussions about how best to govern emerging technologies in ways that mitigate risk without stifling innovation.

A year after the blueprint was unveiled, the Biden administration issued a broad executive order on Oct. 30, 2023, titled Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy AI. While much of the order focuses on safety, it incorporates many of the principles in the blueprint.

The order includes several provisions that focus on civil rights and equity. For example, it requires that the federal government develop guidance for federal contractors on how to prevent AI algorithms from being used to exacerbate discrimination. It also calls for training on how best to approach the investigation and prosecution of civil rights violations related to AI and ensure AI fairness throughout the criminal justice system.

The vision laid out in the blueprint has been incorporated in the executive order as guidance for federal agencies. My research in technology and civil rights underscores the importance of civil rights and equity principles in AI regulation.

Civil rights and AI

Civil rights laws often take decades or even lifetimes to advance. Artificial intelligence technology and algorithmic systems are rapidly introducing black box harms such as automated decision-making that may lead to disparate impacts. These include racial bias in facial recognition systems.

These harms are often difficult to challenge, and current civil rights laws and regulations may not be able to address them. This raises the question of how to ensure that civil rights are not compromised as new AI technologies permeate society.

When combating algorithmic discrimination, what does an arc that bends toward justice look like? What does a “Letter from Birmingham Jail” look like when a civil rights activist is protesting not unfair physical detention but digital…

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