As the global race to regulate artificial intelligence is heating up, President Joe Biden took a significant step forward for the U.S. AI industry with an executive order signed earlier this week. The federal government has been working to get its arms fully around this novel technology, but new rules for AI have yet to emerge from Congress.
Biden’s executive order represents a break from his previous initiatives on AI. The focus was previously on securing nonbinding voluntary commitments from the largest companies in the field. While these actions helped build momentum, they carried little real significance.
In contrast, the new executive order directs federal agencies to write rules governing their use and interactions with AI. Although it may seem like a minor area to regulate, the impact will come through the federal government’s large procurement of these technologies. The standards created by the agencies will generate de facto national standards, as AI businesses will want to ensure they can sell their products to the government.
While the order will bring little immediate change, agencies will now have to craft their rules. This implementation phase is expected to play out for much of the next year, with the full effect likely not seen until 2025. It will be essential to track the state of progress at these agencies and the restrictions they may propose. Consistency across the federal government is crucial.
This approach to regulating AI is not unique to Biden. Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) has championed a similar strategy in Congress. His proposed legislation has seen some success and is not controversial among other lawmakers. As the popularity and ubiquity of AI grow, these laws may become more divisive as the two parties establish red lines for AI legislation.
Peters, as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, aims to push more proposals through this year. His current bills include measures to require transparency in the federal government’s use of AI, create training programs on AI for federal officials, and designate a point person for AI in federal agencies. The best chance to advance these proposals is to include them in larger legislative packages at the end of the year, such as appropriations bills or the National Defense Authorization Act.