PD Editorial: California tries to get ahead of the AI boom
Generative artificial intelligence — a fast-moving, emerging field epitomized by chatbots like ChatGPT and other tools that can create images, songs or videos — looms large not only in the cultural zeitgeist but also across many industries. Given its wide-ranging possibilities, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent directive to state agencies to develop guidelines for the use of this technology makes a lot of sense.
There are as many predictions about the future of AI systems as there are futurists with a Substack newsletter or itching to get on cable news.
They could be a flash in the pan, a brief public curiosity that soon fades from the headlines. They could lead to the dawning of entirely new industries that create lots of jobs and helpful tools that transform our lives. Or they could end up replacing workers, though early efforts at replacing writers have not gone particularly well.
And there’s the worst-case scenario: AI developers will eventually create something that poses an actual risk to the future of humanity.
Newsom’s order directs state agencies and departments to study both the potential benefits and the potential risks of the use of generative AI within government and at-large.
“This is a potentially transformative technology — comparable to the advent of the internet — and we’re only scratching the surface of understanding what GenAI is capable of,” Newsom said. “We’re neither frozen by the fears nor hypnotized by the upside.”
It’s good to see state government work to understand the implications of an emerging technology and develop a process to evaluate how and whether it can be used effectively and ethically within departments and agencies.
As the executive order notes, California is already at the forefront of the industry with 35 of the top 50 AI firms located here. Taking a hard look at it now could help keep us on top, while minimizing potential risks and negative consequences.
One area where Newsom should tread carefully, however, is in his call for legislators to develop new regulations for artificial intelligence. Though the order doesn’t specify what those regulations should look like, it would be easy to overregulate this nascent industry out of existence, or at least out of California.
Yet some oversight and safeguards might be necessary to ensure that generative AI systems are developed ethically and carefully to avoid a variety of risks — from incorrect output, copyright violations, defamation and the potential for products to be abused by malicious users. As corporations and governments explore different ways of incorporating generative AI, there might be network security and data privacy risks as well.
None of these should be insurmountable challenges if approached thoughtfully. Too often technology becomes embedded in society and industry before government and the public have a chance to fully evaluate its impacts. Lawmakers more often than not are playing catch-up, not building a solid framework in which a new technology can flourish safely.
Newsom’s executive order could provide a solid foundation to ensure that the state understands both the risks and the benefits of generative AI, and that appropriate steps are taken to both mitigate the risks and enhance the benefits.
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