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AI Bill of Rights

The Biden administration's Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights is a framework that seeks to ensure that automated systems do not erode users' rights. (Photo: Phonlamai Photo/iStock/Getty Images)

Biden Takes 'Important First Step' With AI Bill of Rights Blueprint

While many experts welcomed the White House proposal to ensure automated systems don't erode civil liberties, others lamented the voluntary nature of what one tech writer called the "toothless" plan.

Brett Wilkins

While many digital rights advocates on Tuesday welcomed the Biden administration's Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights as "an important first step" toward ensuring that artificial intelligence systems don't erode civil liberties, others panned the voluntary guidelines as "toothless."

"It's critical that the Biden administration use all levers available to make the promises of the bill of rights blueprint a reality."

The Biden administration's Office of Science and Technology Policy published the blueprint "to help guide the design, development, and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) and other automated systems so that they protect the rights of the American public."

The administration's blueprint contains five key components: safe and effective systems, algorithmic discrimination protections, data privacy, notice and explanation when AI is used, and alternative options and the ability to opt out of automated systems.

"Automated technologies are increasingly used to make everyday decisions affecting people's rights, opportunities, and access in everything from hiring and housing, to healthcare, education, and financial services," the White House explained in a fact sheet.

"While these technologies can drive great innovations, like enabling early cancer detection or helping farmers grow food more efficiently, studies have shown how AI can display opportunities unequally or embed bias and discrimination in decision-making processes," the document states.

"As a result," it adds, "automated systems can replicate or deepen inequalities already present in society against ordinary people, underscoring the need for greater transparency, accountability, and privacy."

The CEO of the advocacy group Center for Democracy & Technology, Alexandra Reeve Givens, said in a statement that the proposed bill of rights "marks an important step in recognizing the ways in which algorithmic systems can deepen inequality. It expresses expectations for safer and fairer data practices—something to which all entities developing and deploying AI systems should commit."

"In particular, we commend the White House for considering the diverse ways in which discrimination can occur, for challenging inappropriate and irrelevant data uses, and for lifting up examples of practical steps that companies and agencies can take to reduce harm," she added.

ReNika Moore, director of the ACLU's Racial Justice Program, asserted that "just as our Constitution's Bill of Rights protects our most basic civil rights and liberties from the government, in the 21st century, we need a 'bill of rights' to protect us against the use of faulty and discriminatory artificial intelligence that infringes upon our core rights and freedoms."

"We commend the Biden administration on this step toward ensuring that AI systems don't erode our rights," she added.

Reaction to the president's proposal was not all positive. Khari Johnson, a senior writer at Wired, called the blueprint "toothless against Big Tech."

Johnson lamented that the blueprint "will not have the force of law—it's a nonbinding white paper" that's "primarily aimed at the federal government."

"It will change how algorithms are used only if it steers how government agencies acquire and deploy AI technology, or helps parents, workers, policymakers, or designers ask tough questions about AI systems," he wrote. "It has no power over the large tech companies that arguably have the most power in shaping the deployment of machine learning and AI technology."

Moore tempered her praise for the blueprint by stressing that "it's critical that the Biden administration use all levers available to make the promises of the bill of rights blueprint a reality."

"There should be no loopholes or carve-outs for these protections," she said. "The federal government must enforce these rights in the law enforcement and national security contexts, where the harms to people from automated systems are well-documented and more common and severe for marginalized groups, and where people's liberty and due process rights are routinely at stake."

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