Think about artificial intelligence. Then think about Vice President Kamala Harris. Can you see any connection?
Well, the White House does, and they are putting Harris front and center as the point person on the Biden administration’s response to AI developments. On May 4, Harris met with a group of CEOs from Alphabet, Microsoft, and other tech heavyweights. The idea is to monitor the rapid AI advancements and ponder how the federal government can stay ahead of what some fear are threats to online safety, worrisome incidents of deep fake communications, and emerging uses in national security.
The White House Is Suddenly Interested in AI
President Biden has even played around with one of the best known chatbots – ChatGPT – that is sweeping the world, entertaining many, and scaring others. Governments have been concerned about how chatbots can someday eliminate jobs and spread damaging misinformation.
The Biden administration wants to invest $140 million to set up seven new AI research centers around the country. It is feared China is also leaping ahead in AI development that has been spurred by much government support in money, personnel, and resources from Beijing.
Can It Change How the Government Does Business?
The federal government may be using AI tools across the government and wants to see how bureaucrats can use it to their advantage. The Office of the Management of the Budget will soon release guidelines on these developments after studying the technology.
A think tank expert believes that now is the time for the federal government to act. Adam Conner of the White House-friendly Center for American Progress said that he is concerned that America is not on top of the AI game.
“We’re at a moment that in the next couple of months will really determine whether or not we lead on this or cede leadership to other parts of the world, as we have in other tech regulatory spaces like privacy or regulating large online platforms,” Conner told the Associated Press.
Kamala Harris Discusses How It Will Transform the Country
After the meeting, Harris was confident that the United States can alleviate fears that the advantages of AI do not outweigh the threats if the federal government works with industry to maintain safety and online security. She said that “the private sector has an ethical, moral, and legal responsibility to ensure the safety and security of their products.”
That is a prudent quote, but it is surprising that Harris would take the lead on such a difficult and thorny problem. She has no previous technology or private sector experience and served most of her government career as a prosecutor. Perhaps she can work with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to better coordinate public policy with the private sector.
The White House, perhaps sensing the vice president would be criticized for her lack of expertise, released a statement from Harris.
“Throughout my career I have focused on protecting consumers from the risks associated with technology. As Attorney General for the State of California, I worked to protect seniors from online scammers, women and girls from online harassment, and consumers from privacy breaches, including by establishing a Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit within the California Department of Justice,” she said.
Late Night Comic Makes Fun of Harris
Fair enough. But that didn’t stop conservative commentators from poking fun at the vice president. Fox’s Greg Gutfeld, who hosts a late-night satire program on the conservative network, had this to say about Harris’ new job in the AI world.
“Kamala has been tapped as the administration’s point person on AI. Apparently, to see if artificial intelligence is no match for her natural stupidity. Oh, and by the way, how is she going to help? By sleeping with R2-D2?” a snarky Gutfeld quipped.
It is incredibly difficult to stay ahead of AI development. So many sectors of the economy are rushing to use the new tech to supplement human roles in generative language processing and robotics, to name just a few areas.
My experience with AI is extensive. I helped develop web tools for predictive analytics using machine learning, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing. I filed two patent applications in this area. I trained AI models and founded a startup that predicted world events using the technology. I have also written a book that was partially about AI and international security. But despite this background, I don’t even feel like an expert because it is changing the world so rapidly. Plus, I have no experience in generative AI – the natural language processing undergirding chatbots. Every day I spend away from AI software, I fall further behind.
That’s why it is questionable for someone like Harris to be given such an important and critical role in this vertical without prior experience in the private sector or even some kind of technology coursework as an undergrad. Harris has much on her plate including what she was supposed to do with illegal immigration that petered out soon after she took on the assignment.
But the Biden White House is aware of the advances in AI and appears to be moving forward with various initiatives. Who knows, Kamala Harris may like working in such an amazing world. She could be known as the political leader who will preside over some of the biggest societal changes we have seen since the advent of the Internet. And she can add that to her legacy, even if she is an unlikely choice for AI leadership.
Author Expertise and Experience:
Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.