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The White House just issued an executive order on AI. Here are three things you should know.

The goal of the order, according to the White House, is to improve “AI safety and security.” It also includes a requirement that developers share safety test results for new AI models with the US government if the tests show that the technology could pose a risk to national security. This is a surprising move that invokes the Defense Production Act, typically used during times of national emergency.

The executive order advances the voluntary requirements for AI policy that the White House set back in August, though it lacks specifics on how the rules will be enforced. Executive orders are also vulnerable to being overturned at any time by a future president, and they lack the legitimacy of congressional legislation on AI, which looks unlikely in the short term.  

“The Congress is deeply polarized and even dysfunctional to the extent that it is very unlikely to produce any meaningful AI legislation in the near future,” says Anu Bradford, a law professor at Columbia University who specializes in digital regulation.

Nevertheless, AI experts have hailed the order as an important step forward, especially thanks to its focus on watermarking and standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). However, others argue that it does not go far enough to protect people against immediate harms inflicted by AI.

Here are the three most important things you need to know about the executive order and the impact it could have. 

What are the new rules around labeling AI-generated content? 

The White House’s executive order requires the Department of Commerce to develop guidance for labeling AI-generated content. AI companies will use this guidance to develop labeling and watermarking tools that the White House hopes federal agencies will adopt. “Federal agencies will use these tools to make it easy for Americans to know that the communications they receive from their government are authentic—and set an example for the private sector and governments around the world,” according to a fact sheet that the White House shared over the weekend. 

The hope is that labeling the origins of text, audio, and visual content will make it easier for us to know what’s been created using AI online. These sorts of tools are widely proposed as a solution to AI-enabled problems such as deepfakes and disinformation, and in a voluntary pledge with the White House announced in August, leading AI companies such as Google and Open AI pledged to develop such technologies. 

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