Communications and Technology

Biden Admin Sends Mixed Messages on U.S. Tech Priorities

The Administration clearly intends for U.S. AI policy to be of the government, by the government, and for the government – not of the people, by the people, and for the people.

American presidents start the year with two high-profile opportunities to set the tone on policy and lay out an ambitious vision for the nation: The traditional State of the Union Address, and the Administration’s annual budget request to Congress. When it comes to the major technology policy questions of our time, what we heard from President Biden was less than inspiring.

In President Biden’s State of the Union remarks, tech policy was clearly an afterthought. More than an hour into his address, as he was preparing to make his exit from the House Chamber, the President finally made a half-hearted call for a bipartisan consumer data privacy bill to protect children online. He also urged lawmakers to “harness the promise of AI to protect us from peril” and “ban AI voice impersonations,” no doubt referring to the infamous deepfake robocall that victimized him personally before the New Hampshire primary election. That was it.

What was missing from Biden’s State of the Union? Any kind of comprehensive strategy to make the U.S. a leader in AI and emerging technology. Considering his own State Department recently commissioned a report reiterating concerns that AI could result in “catastrophic risks” to humanity, one would think it should rank higher on the national to-do list than reviving problematic policies like the PRO Act or calling to raise taxes on U.S. businesses.

On the other hand, President Biden’s FY 2025 budget request calls for new funding increases to implement key components of his sweeping October 2023 AI executive order. The Department of Commerce requests over $100 million for AI-related initiatives, including the establishment of a U.S. AI Safety Institute designed to “operationalize” the federal AI Risk Management Framework. The RMF was originally designed for voluntary use, but some state and federal AI regulatory proposals seek to transform the Framework’s voluntary guidance into mandatory obligations for developers and deployers of the technology. The President’s budget features an additional $500 million for AI research and projects across other agencies like the Department of Energy, the State Department, the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The Administration clearly intends for U.S. AI policy to be of the government, by the government, and for the government – not of the people, by the people, and for the people. Unfortunately, these policies do not operate in a vacuum, and there are some troubling signs that our competitive edge might already be slipping.

Axios recently reported that Western regions with a more pessimistic view of AI in the workplace (including the U.S., Canada, and the European Union) show lower levels of adoption and AI experimentation across the workforce, missing out on potential productivity gains. Meanwhile, the reverse is true in Asia, where over 60% of workers polled in India, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia say AI tools have improved overall productivity.

The Biden Administration may wish to slow the pace of AI development, but there is no indication our economic competitors abroad would do the same. Policymakers should discard these draconian proposals and instead support pragmatic ALEC model policies that encourage dynamic innovation at home, protect children online, and leverage our existing consumer protection laws to address harmful conduct.

So, Mr. President, which is it? Is AI a “whole-of-government” top priority for the country as laid out in your budget request and executive actions? Or, will emerging tech be relegated to the backburner while rival nations pass us by? Decisive leadership rooted in ALEC’s principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism will be necessary for the United States to make the most of this pivotal moment.