Beyond Schmidt and Jassy, members included Andrew Moore, Google’s head of cloud AI; Safra Catz, co-CEO of Oracle; Eric Horvitz, Microsoft’s director of research; Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense who helped start the Pentagon’s recent pivot toward AI, and former Democratic FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn.
The panel started work in 2019 and issued a series of interim reports and recommendations before delivering its final 756-page opus in March. It came with predrafted legislation so lawmakers could copy and paste the group’s ideas into law and draft executive orders for the White House.
Commissioners also appeared at congressional hearings, including one dedicated to the group’s recommendations. At a February hearing of the House Armed Services committee, Schmidt warned that “the threat of Chinese leadership in key technology areas is a national crisis and needs to be dealt with directly, now.”
Ylli Bajraktari, who served as NSCAI’s executive director, says Congress’s action on the commission’s recommendations indicates the group did its job. “I think leaders in Congress understand we’re lacking in this important technology that’s going to dominate our lives,” he says. “We enjoyed bipartisan support.”
Asked if the group was too tech industry-centric, Bajraktari points out that most of the 15 commissioners were not from the tech industry and were appointed by lawmakers and government agencies. The group consulted “hundreds of private sector companies and academics, as well as international allies and partners” before drawing up recommendations, he says.
When WIRED asked technology companies if their involvement in the commission created conflicts of interest, their responses largely ignored the question. Oracle did not respond to a request for comment.
Moore, Google’s head of Cloud AI, said he was honored to serve on the commission and that he hoped it and other projects would “strengthen American AI leadership and grow a more robust AI workforce.” Amazon referred WIRED to Jassy’s comments at a March public meeting of the group, where he talked about the need for “meaningful urgency” on the issues it had highlighted. Microsoft’s Horvitz said he had led the commission’s work on “Trustworthy and Ethical AI” and said in a statement that he “found all of the commissioners, no matter their affiliation, to be deeply committed to the mission: the national security and prosperity of the United States.” A spokesperson for Schmidt said he had been appointed to the commission because of his technology expertise and had filed the required ethics paperwork, which was reviewed by Pentagon lawyers.
The commission’s final report argues that infusing AI systems with “American values” is part of the global competition over the technology. “The more our commissioners thought about it, the more it became clear that the one thing that makes us different from China is how we use these technologies,” Bajraktari says.
Some of the recommendations are under consideration by Congress for inclusion in the next defense budget. One would require national security agencies and armed services branches to have a member of senior leadership working full time on “responsible AI.” Another would require formal assessments of risks to privacy and civil liberties for any AI system involving US persons.
Ben Winters, a lawyer who works on AI issues at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, supports some of those suggestions, but he says that overall the commission’s recommendations lean heavily toward deploying, rather than constraining, AI.
The result resembles some AI ethics suggestions from the tech industry, he says, which lack sufficient bite to meet the scale of the challenges posed by the technology. “The tenor of the recommendations largely is ‘We need to keep pushing on AI adoption so we don’t lose to China,’” Winters says. “They failed to recommend comprehensive privacy legislation or any concrete rights by people impacted by harmful AI.” EPIC won a lawsuit against the commission that forced the disclosure of many documents, including commissioners’ ethics forms, but details of the disclosures were redacted.