Crisis threatens AI regulation plans in the US; understand

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the US government laboratory responsible for overseeing artificial intelligence (AI), is facing a series of challenges.

According to the The Washington Post, for example, black mold that appeared in the building forced some employees to leave their offices. Still, researchers are sleeping in their labs to protect their work during frequent blackouts, some employees have to take computers to other buildings due to unstable internet, and a leaky roof forces others to use plastic tarps.

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These structural problems are putting President Joe Biden's ambitious AI plans at risk.

US-regulated AI at risk?

  • NIST is in charge of developing tests to identify security flaws and other technology-related problems;
  • However, budget constraints have left the laboratory short-staffed and most of its facilities below acceptable construction standards;
  • In interviews with current and former NIST employees, Biden administration officials, congressional aides and technology company executives, a large difference in resources was found between NIST and the technology companies it must evaluate;
  • This disparity poses a risk to the White House's plans to establish guidelines for this developing technology.
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Image: Pixels Hunter/Shutterstock

Lack of financing

Despite the creation of the new United States Artificial Intelligence Security Institute, the crisis at the run-down laboratory is worsening.

A new spending plan proposed by lawmakers calls for a more than 10% cut in NIST's overall budget, leaving the agency with few resources to compete with technology giants such as Google and Microsoft in the race to develop AI. These cuts are seen as an obstacle in the global dispute for technology leadership.

Industry interference calls into question NIST's impartiality

Some AI experts worry that a lack of funding leaves NIST vulnerable to industry influence.

Technology companies are collaborating with the agency on developing computing infrastructure, while executives from companies including Amazon and OpenAI are in regular contact with Commerce Department officials to discuss NIST's work with AI.

This interaction between the government agency and industry raises concerns about the possibility of external influence on AI safety guidelines and evaluation.

Future of NIST and technology regulation in the US

NIST's financial situation highlights the limitations of the Biden administration's plan to regulate AI exclusively through the executive branch.

Without an act of Congress, there is no additional funding for initiatives such as the Artificial Intelligence Security Institute, and these programs can easily be rolled back by the next president.

The chances of Congress acting on AI in 2024 are becoming increasingly slim, which calls into question the maintenance and development of NIST's programs.

And, in addition to the financial challenges, NIST also faces structural problems beyond those mentioned at the beginning of the text. More than 60% of laboratory facilities do not meet federal standards for acceptable building conditions.

Poor conditions impact employee productivity and affect the progress of important research and projects, such as evaluations of facial recognition systems used by the FBI and other security agencies.

Image: TSViPhoto/Shutterstock

But despite all these restrictions, NIST is recognized for its expertise in advanced AI systems.

In 2019, the laboratory released a pioneering study that confirmed that facial recognition systems have a higher error rate when identifying people of color, which raised questions about the use of this technology for law enforcement.

Yet, in recent years, NIST has been publishing guidelines on AI and leading security efforts in this area.

However, given the current scenario, it is essential that Congress provide adequate funding to NIST so that the agency can play its leadership role in technology and develop effective regulation for AI.

For the TWPNIST's work is essential to ensure the safety and reliability of the increasing use of artificial intelligence in various sectors.

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