The White House’s engagement with companies on their artificial intelligence capabilities — including giving those partners a “homework” assignment — helped speed up the pace of action on the technology, Microsoft Vice Chair and President Brad Smith said at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday.
When the Biden administration brought four companies, including Microsoft, to the White House in May to discuss AI, it gave those firms “homework assignments” to show what they were prepared to do to address safe, secure, and transparent use of the technology, Smith said on a panel about AI regulation around the world.
Though the assignment was due by the end of the month, Smith recalled that Microsoft was “proud” to have submitted a first draft quickly. The following day, however, the feedback came in.
“We sent it in on Sunday, and on Monday morning I had a call with [White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo], and they said, ‘Congratulations, you got it in first. You know what your grade is? Incomplete,’” Smith said. Prabhakar was also on the Wednesday panel in Davos, Switzerland.
The officials, he said, told Microsoft to build upon what they submitted. “And it broke the cycle that often happens when policymakers are saying ‘do this’ and industry is saying ‘that’s not practical.’ And especially for new technology that was evolving so quickly, it actually made it possible to speed up the pace,” Smith said.
Engagement with companies has been a key aspect of the Biden administration’s efforts to develop a U.S. policy for AI use and regulation, including obtaining voluntary commitments from firms that they’ll manage the risks posed by the budding and rapidly growing technology.
“I don’t think that all of these governments would have gotten as far as they did by December if you hadn’t engaged some of the companies in that way,” Smith said.
Smith’s comment came after Prabhakar addressed the administration’s work with companies on the Wednesday panel, saying that Microsoft and others are on the “leading edge” of the technology. But she also noted that the administration engaged with small companies, civil society, workers, labor unions, and academia.
“I actually think this is an important part of our philosophy of regulation and governance, is not to just do it top-down and sit in our offices and make up answers,” Prabhakar said. “The way effective governance happens is with all those parties at the table.”