Last year the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has announced that the US needs a bill for the age of algorithms. Damage from artificial intelligence disproportionately impacts marginalized communities, the agency’s director and deputy director wrote in a WIRED op-ed, which is why government guidance was needed to protect people from discriminatory or ineffective AI.
Today, the OSTP released the blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, after gathering input from companies such as Microsoft and Palantir, as well as AI auditing startups, human rights groups and the general public. The five principles state that people have the right to control how their data is used, to opt out of automated decision-making, to live free from ineffective or insecure algorithms, to know when AI is making a decision about them, and not to to be discriminated against by unfair algorithms.
“Technologies will come and go, but fundamental freedoms, rights, opportunities and access must be kept open, and it’s the job of government to make sure that’s the case,” said Alondra Nelson, OSTP’s deputy director for science. and society, to WIRED. “This is the White House saying that workers, students, consumers, communities, everyone in this country should expect and demand better from our technologies.”
However, unlike the better-known US Bill of Rights, which includes the first 10 constitutional amendments, the AI version will not have the force of law – it is a non-binding white paper.
The White House blueprint for AI rights is primarily aimed at the federal government. It will only change the way algorithms are used if it guides how government agencies acquire and deploy AI technology, or help parents, employees, policymakers or designers ask tough questions about AI systems. It has no power over the big tech companies that arguably have the most power in shaping the deployment of machine learning and AI technology.
The document released today resembles the stream of AI ethical principles released by corporations, nonprofits, democratic governments and even the catholic church in recent years. Their principles are usually directionally correct, with words like transparency, explainabilityand trustworthybut they have no teeth and are too faint to make a difference in people’s daily lives.
Nelson of OSTP says the blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights differs from previous recitations of AI principles because it is intended to be directly translated into practice. The past year of listening sessions has been aimed at taking the project beyond the whims, Nelson says. ‘We too understand that principles are not enough,’ says Nelson. “This is really just a down payment. It is just the beginning and the beginning.”
The OSTP received emails from about 150 people about its project and heard from about 130 additional individuals, companies and organizations who responded to a request for information earlier this year. The final blueprint is intended to protect people from discrimination based on race, religion, age, or any other class of people protected by law. It extends the definition of sex to “pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions,” a change made in response to public concerns about the privacy of abortion data.