USAID seeking information about AI for global development playbook

The global development agency is interested in how AI “can both accelerate and erode development progress,” an official tells FedScoop.
(Wikimedia Commons)

USAID and the State Department are requesting information to assist the agencies in using artificial intelligence applications for sustainable development.

USAID and State’s public notice, posted Friday in the Federal Register, requests information on the barriers and opportunities presented by AI, focusing specifically on responsible usage, AI policy and protections and public engagement with AI governance and risks. A USAID official said in an interview with FedScoop that the agency is thinking about “equitable access” to tools that “may exacerbate gaps that we already see in the world.”

This request for information is one step toward the agency’s sole requirement in President Joe Biden’s AI executive order: USAID has one year to “promote safe, responsible and right’s-affirming development and deployment of AI abroad” through an AI in Global Development Playbook, according to the order’s text. 

The USAID official told FedScoop that the playbook is “really going to outline some principles, some guidelines and really best practices that are accounting for both the social, technical, economic, human rights and security conditions that are going to be impacted by artificial intelligence — specifically not just beyond the U.S. borders, but in countries that USAID works in, which I have to say aren’t always the countries that people are paying attention to.”


Much of the agency’s use of AI has been in continuing the advancement of global development, including a current partnership with Duke University that is focused on authoritarianism and the closing of civic space that allows support organizations, members of the media and others to respond to “growing restrictions on democratic freedoms of association, assembly and expression.”

“We’re equally focused on the potential of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and how they can both accelerate and erode development progress,” the USAID official said. “What that means for us is just this balance of mitigation of risk and understanding that harm. This is largely something that’s important for us to learn and understand. … In some countries, you’re finding folks going all in, because they’re seeing that learning AI tools and learning how to build AI tools and how to use AI tools, in some ways, that is the way that they’re going to leapfrog in this global economy and in this rapidly changing economy.”

The USAID official stated that the agency has been using AI “for years” and is trying to harness the technology with the agency’s mission in mind. Internally, USAID is looking to minimize time on tasks that do not directly correlate with “high-value tasks.” 

“We’re at an agency that is quite literally trying to solve the world’s most pressing challenges,” the official said. “There will never be enough people, enough hours or enough money to do that. So these types of tools like artificial intelligence can help us be more targeted in our approach. If some tasks can be a bit more automated, that’s great, and certainly making sure that we mitigate the risk by putting human eyes on the final products to make sure that it has integrity, that the datasets we’re working on have integrity.”

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