Her remarks on Friday came as the Biden administration roped in several IT giants like Google and Microsoft to manage the risks of the new AI tools even as they compete over the potential of artificial intelligence (AI).
“The work that we are doing includes working with companies to hold them accountable and there’s some important progress on that today,” Indian-American engineer Prabhakar told PTI in an interview.
“We’re also working on executive actions that we can take within existing law, and the President is considering an executive order that we think can really boost our ability to deal with AI’s harms and also start using it for good,” she said.
She said the administration will also continue to work with Congress on bipartisan legislation as they start putting it forward.
“Then critically and underpinning all of this is the work that we’re doing globally with our international partners and allies, including with India,” Prabhakar said.
Prabhakar, 64, who is serving as the 12th director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Science Advisor to the President since October 3, 2022, said artificial intelligence is a global technology.
“It’s everywhere. Everyone is participating and it’s really affecting, it’s going to affect everyone’s lives and we want to make sure that like-minded countries work together to shape the course of AI,” she said in response to a question.
AI, she said, was one of the important topics of discussion when President Joe Biden met Prime Minister Narendra Modi here last month.
“I think that’s very much on the minds of our global leaders when they meet with President Biden. That’s what happened with Prime Minister Modi and many others,” she said.
Prabhakar said she had the opportunity to be at Congress when Prime Minister Modi spoke and then at the State Dinner and then again at the luncheon that the Vice President and the Secretary of State hosted.
“Artificial intelligence came up repeatedly in those conversations. In fact, the prime minister made a wonderful joke when he addressed Congress and he said he thought AI stood for America, India, which is another way of interpreting it,” Prabhakar said.
“But I think really the theme of many of the conversations that have happened is exactly what you’re saying is we’re going to have to link arms and be clear about how to achieve safe AI so all of our citizens can benefit from it,” Prabhakar said.
Prabhakar, who spent half of her professional life in Silicon Valley and has her regular home in Palo Alto, said she senses the excitement about AI in Silicon Valley.
“What I would say is go build amazing applications for artificial intelligence because that is part of how we’re going to go forward and make sure while you’re doing it, to build AI that is safe and trustworthy so that it really does lift us up in the end,” she said.
On Friday, Biden announced voluntary commitments that the administration has worked on with seven leading AI companies.
These companies include Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Meta, and some of the smaller AI companies. A number of tech companies, some of the biggest leaders in AI, are signing up for some commitments on safety, security and trust.
Biden in brief remarks said: “We must be clear-eyed and vigilant about the threats emerging from emerging technologies that can pose — don’t have to but can pose — to our democracy and our values.”
“This is a serious responsibility; we have to get it right,” he said, flanked by the executives from the companies. “And there’s enormous, enormous potential upside as well.”
Prabhakar said it was an important step that the administration had been able to achieve by holding these companies to account because it’s the first time that the industry has started to come together and take responsibility.
“Then we’re going to be working on what we need to do as an executive branch, and that will include figuring out how do we manage as AI makes voice cloning, makes fraud easier. As cybercrime becomes easier, some of these harms start advancing. How do we mitigate those harms within the laws and regulations that we already have?” she said.
“And then how do we start using AI for public purposes? How do we use it to deal with the climate crisis that we’re confronting? How do we use it to improve health outcomes for everyone here in America and around the world? So we’re seeing both the bright and the dark side and we’re actively working on both pieces,” she said.
Describing AI as the most powerful technology of this time, she said the president has been clear that how it is used is going to “express their values”. But that’s true as well around the world.
“We know every part of the world is trying to use AI to create a future that expresses their values. I think we can disagree about lots of things in this country and around the world, but the one thing I think we would all of us would agree on is that we don’t want to live in a future that’s driven by technology, that’s shaped by authoritarian regimes,” Prabhakar said.
“That’s is why I think it is so important for like-minded countries, for democratic countries to come together and make sure that we’re working together to use AI in ways that express our values,” said the top American scientific official.
Prabhakar’s family immigrated from Delhi to the United States when she was three years old – first to Chicago and then settling when she was age 10 in Lubbock, Texas, where she went on to get her electrical engineering degree from Texas Tech University.
She was the first woman to earn a PhD in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology, where she also earned an MS in electrical engineering. She started her career in the legislative branch as a Congressional Fellow at the Office of Technology Assessment.
Prabhakar also served as director of The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from 2012 to 2017.
Prabhakar was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate to lead the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), taking the helm at age 34 as the first woman to lead the agency.