HERSHEY, Pa. — Ahead of President Joe Biden’s signing of his administration’s executive order on artificial intelligence Monday afternoon, Federal CIO Clare Martorana described the landmark policy as the type of transformational moment that brings to mind the space race of the 1960s and the U.S. putting the first man on the moon in 1969.
“I saw a movie recently where folks were looking at the moon landing. And this isn’t quite a moon landing moment. But it’s a transformational moment,” Martorana said Monday morning during a keynote at ACT-IAC’s Imagine Nation ELC conference in Hershey, Pa. “We have written an executive order that is of the highest order and was done in this, you know, human-centered policy design. It was collaborated on by thought leaders across the United States public and private sector.”
Biden is expected to sign the executive order at 2 p.m. Monday at the White House. Ahead of its release, the administration shared details of its contents, which include AI privacy risks and federal procurement implications, and calls on several agencies to take on new responsibilities related to artificial intelligence, among other things.
Martorana called the EO “the first AI guidance that is being put out by any government in the world,” adding that “the United States is continuing to lead.” She said more guidance would come soon, perhaps as early as later in the week as Vice President Kamal Harris travels to the United Kingdom for a global summit on AI.
While she didn’t get ahead of the guidance by detailing any specifics from it that will impact federal agencies, Martorana did share her thoughts on AI as a tool for the government, calling it the “most transformative technology in a generation,” but acknowledged “it’s also a lot of noise.”
“Right now in the marketplace especially, you know, you could have an old ‘jalopy’ and … sprinkle it with AI dust, and it’s now a magical” tool,” she said.
Instead of focusing on the hype of certain technologies and tools, Martorana emphasized how important it is to get the foundation right by focusing on risks and then looking at how it can be applied to missions instead of buying AI because it’s exciting.
“Foundationally, the way that we’re thinking about AI is twofold. One is we focus completely on the risks … on the potential for bias, the potential for harm. That is one of the reasons I am the most proud of serving in this administration. We are focused on the human impact and interaction with technology. So that is job one,” Martorana said. “But then there’s the optimism, right, and the opportunity — we’re already seeing the U.S. government [use AI], we publicly published over 700 AI use cases across the government, that the agencies are already using AI, they’ve been using AI for a while.”
Citing “really wonderful innovation coming out of that in a climate space, in the health care space” and how the U.S. Forest Service is using AI to drive wildfire prediction, Martorana said: “There’s such cool stuff going on, and we know that it is going to positively impact if we continue to be focused on rights, preserving privacy, security for every single thing that we do in government. And I think that’s the path we’re trying to be on at this moment. But they’re early days.”