How Obama helped President Biden draft the AI executive order

Former President Barack Obama helped draft the new White House artificial intelligence policy that President Joe Biden rolled out earlier this week, according to aides familiar with the situation.

On Monday, Biden put out the administration’s AI policy, culminating with an executive order he signed. The plan also includes a task force run by the Department of Commerce to study and research emerging AI trends. Biden’s executive order aims to safeguard against threats posed by artificial intelligence, ensuring that bad actors do not use the technology to develop devastating weapons or mount supercharged cyberattacks.

Ahead of its debut, Obama — who has long had interest in AI — assisted the Biden team with the plan, an Obama aide told ABC News. Obama held meetings with AI industry leaders, where he pressed them and made them aware of not just the national security concerns AI poses, but also other issues with AI such as bias and discrimination, the aide said.

Obama also met with congressional leaders, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, to figure out the best ways to regulate AI, according to an official.

In 2016, the Obama White House released a report on how artificial intelligence could shape the world going forward, and since then the former president has been engaged in ways AI and the government would coexist.

Former President Barack Obama and President Joe Biden attend a rally, Nov. 5, 2022, in Philadelphia.

Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

At a Cabinet meeting earlier this month, Biden urged his cabinet to work together to draft policy recommendations regarding AI — and two departments, Commerce and Homeland Security, have taken the lead in developing national security policy recommendations. Biden instructed his advisers to take the time they needed in putting together the AI policy given its importance, a White House official said.

“President Biden has taken the most significant actions on AI than any government anywhere in the world. He directed his team to move fast and pull every lever,” White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients told ABC News in a statement. “And one of the best levers we have is listening to the experts: from civil society to tech innovators to scientists — and even former presidents. Former President Obama’s advice has been critical to our aggressive strategy to harness the benefits of AI while minimizing the risks.”

White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer attend the Biden administration’s event on its approach to artificial intelligence at the White House, Oct. 30, 2023, in Washington.

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For his part, Obama reached out to industry leaders at AI companies and leaders in the advocacy and civil society space who are concerned about AI. Also, he spoke with leading academics and researchers to inform the Biden administration’s approach, according to an Obama aide.

Conversations between President Biden and Obama on the topic of AI came up in June over lunch, according to the White House official, and the two talk “regularly.” The official also told ABC News that the president was involved at every turn in the drafting of the executive order.

Obama engaged with the Biden administration to build on the work they had already begun as they coordinated a White House response to develop a “framework to address the real threats and harms posed by AI,” according to an Obama aide.

As part of an April lesson in AI, President Biden received a demonstration of how Chat GPT worked and saw an AI-generated image of himself, as well as his dog, Commander. He was shown deep fake videos of himself, too, according to a White House official.

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