Thank you for having me here today. It’s great to be back with this group.
I’ve spent my career in the public interest technology field. While I’m a lawyer by training, throughout my career in civil society, academia, and now in the federal government, I’ve collaborated with technologists, computer and data scientists, and social scientists who consider both the design and regulation of technical systems as essential to protecting democratic values and human rights, as well as our safety and security.
Today, I have the privilege of serving as Principal Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP. At OSTP, a team of folks who embody the ethos of public interest technology work to maximize the benefits of science and technology to advance health, prosperity, security, environmental quality, and justice for all Americans. We carry out this mission by advising the President and White House senior staff on key issues related to science and technology, and by coordinating federal government technology policy and priorities.
Our nation has immense aspirations: to achieve robust health and ample opportunity for each person in every community; to overcome the climate crisis by reimagining our infrastructure, restoring our relationship with nature, and securing environmental justice; to sustain global security and stability; to build a competitive economy that creates good-paying jobs; and to foster a strong, resilient, and thriving democracy. Technology plays a vital role in achieving each of these goals. Today, I’d like to do three things. First, I’ll tell you a bit about what the Biden-Harris Administration is doing to ensure AI and other technology is developed and implemented in ways that support democratic values and human rights as well as the public’s safety and security. Second, I’ll describe how we’re making it easier for members of the public interest technology field to serve in the federal government. And third, I’ll set out the vital role that universities play in shaping the future of the public interest technology field in government.
President Biden and all of us in the Biden-Harris Administration are committed to using technology and data to support the public interest: ensuring technology works for every member of the public, protects our safety and security, and reflects and protects democratic values and human rights. While you might not read executive orders and federal regulations word for word—if you do, you’ll see this commitment threaded throughout the Administration’s actions. For example, on his first day in office, the President signed an executive order establishing a working group on equitable data focused on using data to evaluate and align federal programs and policies to ensure they are serving all Americans. In December 2021, the President signed an executive order directing the federal government to modernize and improve service delivery, and specifically, to leverage technology solutions to do so. In May 2022, the President signed an executive order directing the federal government to assess how data can inform equitable and effective policing, as well as identify privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties concerns related to the use of technology, including facial recognition and predictive algorithms. And this summer, the Department of Justice proposed a new rule that would establish accessibility standards for state and local governments’ web and mobile app-based services, which would help advance equal access to key programs and services for people with disabilities.
This is only a sampling of key activities we are taking to make sure technology works for all Americans and supports democratic values and institutions.
And then, of course, there is the Administration’s efforts to ensure we can use AI to tackle society’s most challenging problems and do so in a way that protects safety, security, equity, and civil rights.
AI is one of the most powerful technologies of our times, and AI systems are increasingly touching every aspect of our lives. These systems have brought benefits across a wide range of domains: from detecting cancer earlier to improving agricultural yield to helping small business owners cut costs. Advances in AI can supercharge progress, making life better for everyone and helping to meet our greatest challenges.
At the same time, as President Biden has said, to seize the benefits of AI, we must first manage its risks. It seems like every day we read another story, or another study, or hear from another person whose life has been negatively impacted by AI: high-quality images and text are being used to deceive consumers; more and more sensitive information is being used to train AI systems like facial recognition, which is further eroding privacy; and the harms of AI are being disproportionately felt by already underserved communities, such as how AI is being used to create and distribute non-consensual intimate images of women and girls.
These systems are having dramatic impacts on Americans’ lives—putting our rights, our safety, and our security at risk.
Since the start, this Administration has been working to ensure that AI is developed and used to bolster the public interest. In order to do that, we have been clear about our values and how they should be embedded into the systems that are influencing our daily lives. Just over a year ago—after hearing from hundreds of people across the United States and beyond—OSTP released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights as a guide for how to leverage AI technologies in ways that reinforce our highest values, and help protect society from AI’s risks.
Since then, President Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to root out bias in AI and to seek opportunities to involve civil rights experts within government in decisions about technology. The President, Vice President, and senior Administration leaders have continued meeting with experts, researchers, and civil society leaders to discuss risks from AI. The White House announced that leading AI companies would provide their AI systems for the first-ever public “red teaming” assessment, which was held at the DEF CON cybersecurity conference and included assessments of these AI systems against the broad range of risks outlined in the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights. This summer, President Biden secured voluntary commitments from 15 leading AI companies to follow a series of practices to limit risks to safety, security, and trust—helping to create a bridge to regulation for this fast-moving technology.
And we’re not done yet. We are currently developing an executive order on AI and we will pursue bipartisan legislation to help America lead the way in responsible innovation in AI. The Office of Management and Budget will issue guidance for how federal agencies can leverage AI responsibly. The U.S. government has to lead by example—to harness the benefits of AI for the American public, we must establish what it means to responsibly and develop tech, and we must show how it can be done.
Our ability to meet this moment depends on you. The federal government—all branches and levels of government—need the folks in this room. We can’t use AI to benefit the public, or regulate the AI marketplace to protect against risks without people with your talent and passion. That’s why we’re making it easier for the students and academics in this room to join us.
The Office of Personnel Management is making it easier for agencies to quickly hire technical talent such as data scientists. Programs stood up in the Obama-Biden Administration like the Presidential Innovation Fellowship and the U.S. Digital Service continue to bring technical talent into the federal government. And programs launched by the Biden-Harris Administration, such as the U.S. Digital Corps, are now bringing on early-career technologists—something that might be of particular interest to the PIT-UN community. And there are also external fellowships that place technologists in federal agencies and the halls of Congress. Additionally, with the unprecedented investments coming into American communities through the Investing in America agenda, now is a great time for public interest technologists to serve in state and local government and local nonprofits to help deliver to those who need it the most.
And as we recruit, we’re looking for individuals with the mix of technical and policy expertise that the public interest tech field cultivates. We need interdisciplinary teams that can apply AI to key problems and grapple with the societal impacts of AI. As you all know, we need technologists, social scientists, lawyers, ethicists, and others to build AI and to design the tools, methods, and regulations to ensure AI embeds our values and protects our rights.
I thought sharing the Technology team’s mission statement would give you a strong sense of our alignment with this movement and how wide-open OSTP’s doors are to you, your ideas, and your work.
We strive for: A world that uses technology and data to advance and protect civil rights and civil liberties, equity and accessibility, and democratic values along with economic prosperity, scientific progress, and national security. A world in which technologists, data scientists, and social scientists are partners in establishing and implementing public policy.
It will take all of us to get this right.
This brings me to the last point I want to stress today. Universities have a vital role to play in advancing public interest technology. You all know that—that’s why you’re here today. But I want to drill down on two specific ways that you can keep making progress here.
First, you can create the multidisciplinary opportunities that allow students and faculty to grapple with these challenging problems in all their real-world messiness. From academic centers that cross multiple disciplines, to classes that bring together perspectives from different backgrounds, this group is already pushing the frontiers of interdisciplinary and experiential learning. From cybersecurity clinics, to interdisciplinary colloquium and courses, to capstone experiences in local government, these opportunities are necessary to cultivate the knowledge and skills of the next generation of public interest tech field. I urge you all to do more of this type of work.
Second, you all can make it possible for folks from all walks of life to join the public interest technology field. Universities can do more to support faculty, students, and graduates joining the public interest technology field. Support can take many forms, including funding to support faculty stints of government service that bring needed expertise into government and bring public service and public value-oriented questions back into academic research; loan forgiveness and fellowships that ensure diverse graduates can pursue careers in government; externships and internships, co-ops, capstone programs, and clinics that expose students to public interest tech career opportunities, and expose all levels of government to the value of having members of the public interest field in their shops.
My team and I are happy to chat with anyone who has started a program or is contemplating one that would grow the public interest tech field in government. And we’re happy to chat with those who are looking to grow the capacity needed in civil society organizations as well—these organizations also need your talent, and will benefit from loan forgiveness, fellowships, and tours of service.
You all are vital partners in this work. The Administration looks forward to working with you and with students and academics across the country to leverage technology to create a better future for us all.
We are at a pivotal moment, where everyone around the globe recognizes the importance of not only regulating but also proactively shaping and building and using technology to support our values. There could not be a better time to work in public interest technology. I look forward to working with you all to build the vision and workforce to seize the opportunities and manage the risks of AI.