WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama quietly advised the White House over the past five months on its strategy to address artificial intelligence, engaging behind the scenes with tech companies and holding Zoom meetings with top West Wing aides at President Joe Biden’s request, according to aides to both men.
The joint effort culminated Monday when Biden signed an executive order establishing some government oversight of AI development. It’s the first time Biden has tapped his former boss to help shape a key policy initiative, aides said, and he did it because Obama shares his views on the issue and brings a certain heft that could help move the process along quickly.
“You have to move fast here, not at normal government pace or normal private-sector pace, because the technology is moving so fast,” White House chief of staff Jeff Zients recalled Biden saying. “We have to move as fast, or ideally faster. And we need to pull every lever we can.”
AI is one of the things that keep both Biden and Obama up at night, their aides said.
Zients said Biden, like Obama, has viewed AI as a technology that demands urgent attention given that it comes with great promise but also potentially dire consequences, depending on how it’s used.
The current and former presidents discussed the issue on a phone call in June, aides to both of them said. They agreed on the goal of maximizing the technology while limiting the risks, according to Obama and Biden aides.
After that, Biden asked Obama to consult with his team to develop a policy that encourages innovation but also directly addresses the dangers of AI, their aides said. They then cont