U.S., EU Create Council to Think about and Coordinate Tech Requirements

The European Union-United States Trade and Technology Council, formed at their summit in Brussels last week, will work to align the involved nations’ approaches to artificial intelligence governance, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo confirmed Thursday.

Raimondo joined European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager on a virtual panel moderated by Business Software Alliance CEO Victoria Espinel. Among other topics, the three reflected on what they view as a need for democracies to concertedly develop guides for responsible technology use.

“[AI is] certainly an area that we will tackle in the TTC,” Raimondo explained. “I think it is vital that America and the EU kind of write the rules of the road as it relates to AI—and write them on the basis of our shared values: anti-discrimination, against bias, equity, and transparency.”

The Commerce secretary attended the U.S.-EU Summit alongside President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Ambassador Katherine Tai this month, where they met with various EU leaders, including Vestager. That event marked the first high-level meeting between the entities since 2014. There, the international leaders agreed to establish what Raimondo referred to as “concrete deliverables” to pursue “that matter to people.” They pledged to explore the making of a cooperative framework for large civil aircraft and more. Still, for Raimondo, “the greatest accomplishment of last week was officially launching the TTC.” 

She will co-chair the council on the U.S. side, while Vestager will serve as one for the EU. Those involved are ready to engage in hands-on dialogue spanning a long list of issues, they said.

“I think there is a lot of things that we can agree on because we have these fundamentals in common—cybersecurity, discussing supply chains, the role and responsibilities of our platforms, technical standards, export controls—and I think we need it,” Vestager noted. “We need for democracies to come together, and I think that is the main message in the geopolitical situation that we’re in right now, that all democracies with shared values should come together and show that we can deliver.”

Raimondo agreed, pushing back against some narratives that the U.S. and EU have wildly different views around technology and associated policies. 

“I think what we share vastly overshadows our disagreements because fundamentally what we share are commitments to privacy, commitments to anti-discrimination, commitments to our shared national security, commitments to equity, and commitments to democracy,” she said. But while the U.S. remains aligned with the EU in that capacity, Raimondo pointed to a deeper obstacle. 

“What our challenge is, which is not easy, is to figure out how to regulate and set standards for emerging technology in a way that allows innovation to flourish at the fastest rate possible and create as many jobs as possible, but that keeps people safe, secures privacy and holds true to our shared democratic values,” the secretary said. “And that’s the work of the TTC—and one issue at a time, we’re going to work ourselves through these complex issues.”

The panel accompanied BSA’s release of a risk management framework intended to build trust in AI. And the European Commission recently proposed a comprehensive regulatory regime for the technology. Vestager briefly noted how that resource takes risk into account. She added that as nations race to explore how digital tools can enable humans to do things that have otherwise never been possible, “the task is to create the trust that this will not undermine the very society that we’re trying to improve.” 

President Donald Trump signed an executive order detailing the American AI Initiative, or the country’s strategy to promote innovation in the burgeoning realm, in 2019. To date, however, the U.S. does not have one overarching set of nationwide ethical AI rules.

“The promise of AI is extraordinary—but, as is the danger,” Raimondo said. “And so we need to take a risk-based approach to regulating AI.”

It’s vital to remain both innovation-friendly and committed to ensuring public trust and respect for privacy, according to the secretary. “If you think about the ways that AI could be used in a discriminatory fashion, or to further strengthen discriminatory tendencies—it is pretty scary,” Raimondo noted. 

But to her, the government likely “won’t let that happen.” The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a subcomponent of the Commerce Department, is “embarking on an effort to develop an AI risk management framework to support the deployment of AI,” she said, “but the deployment of AI that is secure, trustworthy, and safe.”

Input from industry, in Raimondo’s view, will be crucial to that work. 

Touching on a range of other topics, the leaders also pointed to innovations across the digital economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Raimondo, who served as Rhode Island’s first female governor before she was sworn in as Commerce secretary this year, said she’s a “huge believer that” the public sector must step up as businesses have to deploy technologies to improve customer experience. 

“The last thing I’ll say is—the same is true for cybersecurity. So we here at the Department of Commerce, unfortunately, prior to my arrival, were the victim of a cyber attack. We’ve hardened our system significantly, but every state in America, I can confidently say, is behind in this regard,” she said. “And it’s time that we all catch up.”

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