The U.S. government announced on May 27 that it was joining the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI), a group launched by the G7 to provide cooperation between nations on artificial intelligence. This is a sharp change of course for the United States which had held out on joining the group initially out of concern that its European allies would use the forum to push for aggressive regulation of the technology without clear evidence of harms. Instead, the group is now set up to focus on the responsible development of AI, including by developing research agendas, promoting AI workforce development, and spurring AI innovation and commercialization, while ensuring these uses align with shared democratic values.
The U.S. presence on the global stage in AI policy is a welcome step because it provides an alternative to the two dominant views. On one side is China, which has made bold commitments in its national AI strategy to leverage the technology across its entire economy and use this to be more competitive economically and militarily. However, many are concerned that China’s authoritarian government will also abuse the technology to infringe on human rights, including by monitoring dissidents and minority communities. On the other side is the EU, which has embraced the precautionary principle and wants to strictly regulate the use of AI because of fears that the technology will otherwise be used for harmful purposes.
The United States presents an alternative view—unlike China it wants to protect democratic values, and unlike the EU it wants to proceed without an overly burdensome regulatory regime.
U.S. leadership on digital policy issues has always been important. For example, in the 1990s the U.S. government championed the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance, creating a balance between the different needs of government, commercial, and civil society stakeholders. For many years, the U.S. government has backed a free and open Internet, helping to resist efforts by other countries to censor content online and impose data localization requirements.
Today, the AI economy needs such advocacy even more, as its expansion and evolution depends on the ability of technology firms to operate across borders. For instance, the EU’s data laws that restrict algorithmic decision making inhibit firms from selling AI products and services that automate many processes. The United States could influence its other trading partners to avoid adopting such harmful policies by advancing a light-touch regulatory framework that instead fosters algorithmic accountability. Forums like GPAI present an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate that regulations should be adopted only where they are necessary and only targeting specific harms in particular application areas. This approach will allow for more rapid adoption of AI and faster economic and social progress.
Working with other countries to address issues arising from the misuse of AI products will serve the United States well at home too. For example, in response to the flagrant abuse of facial recognition technology in China to target the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority, the United States could engage its geopolitical partners to share resources, expertise, and best practices on establishing global norms on ethical uses of AI. By establishing proper guardrails, rather than enacting misguided bans or innovation-hampering regulation, the United States can prevent consumer backlash that impedes the growth of beneficial AI technologies.
Establishing such consensus with allied nations is particularly important in balancing global power dynamics in AI development. Chinese government officials and the country’s industry leaders made it clear in their call for stronger global collaboration in AI this month, that they intend to strengthen their ties with other AI leaders. By joining GPAI, the United States is strengthening its own alliance with like-minded democratic partners, and providing a counterweight to China’s growing economic and political power.
Beyond protecting against threats to U.S. economic and national security, GPAI also provides an opportunity for the United States to ensure American values, rather than Chinese ones, prevail on the global scale. There are more commonalities in values and principles among the G7 group than there are divergences, and the United States is correct in thinking that promoting these values—including diversity, inclusion, and civil liberties— is stronger when coordinated. Working together, the group will support the development of AI that integrates shared democratic values and can ultimately ensure these values supersede those of China and other autocratic countries.
GPAI is still in the early days of establishing international cooperation, but the United States’ involvement is an encouraging step towards achieving its vision of economic growth, competitive advantage, and social progress.
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