Developers to share AI safety tests with US government; Canada launches tech talent recruitment platform: news in brief

By on 08/02/2024 | Updated on 08/02/2024
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Global Government Forum’s digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

AI developers to begin sharing safety test results with US government

The US federal government has begun implementing a requirement for major software developers to disclose the results of AI system safety tests, following an executive order signed by president Joe Biden last October.

The mandate was the first US order to directly regulate AI and was described by Biden on signing as the most “significant” action taken on AI by any government to date.

The White House released a fast sheet last week ahead of a meeting by the White House AI Council confirming that agencies had taken all of the actions required to have been met within three months of the order. These include compelling tech companies to report “vital information” about their most powerful AI systems, including the results of safety tests, to the Commerce Department before those systems are released.

Developers are committed to a set of categories for the safety tests, but do not yet have to comply with a common standard on the tests. The government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology is to develop a uniform framework for assessing safety.

Read more: Governments set out plan to ensure AI safety as US makes bid to lead standards

Ben Buchanan, the White House special adviser on AI, said the government wants “to know AI systems are safe before they’re released to the public — the president has been very clear that companies need to meet that bar”.  

Under another directive of the order, US cloud computing companies that provide computing power for foreign AI training must report that they are doing so in a bid to curb “malign activity”.

The White House has also reported that nine agencies – including the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Treasury, and the Department of Health and Human Services – have submitted risk assessments on AI use in critical infrastructure to the Department of Homeland Security. 

As well as measures designed to protect citizens from AI risks, the executive order directed increased investment in AI innovation and new efforts to attract AI experts. As a result, the government has launched a pilot of the National AI Research Resource, made efforts to accelerate the hiring of AI professionals across federal government under what it calls an ‘AI Tech Surge’, and allocated funding to education bodies offering AI courses and training in a bid to develop the AI workforce.

“Taken together these activities mark substantial progress in achieving the executive order’s mandate to protect Americans from the potential risks of AI systems while catalysing innovation in AI and beyond,” the White House said.

Across the pond, it has been reported that the UK Labour Party – which polls suggest will win this year’s general election, ousting the incumbent Conservative government – plans to replace a voluntary testing agreement with a statutory regime under which AI developers would be compelled to share test data with officials.

Read more: UK government directs funding to ‘agile’ AI regulation

Canadian government launches new platform to recruit tech talent

The Government of Canada has launched its Digital Talent Platform, an online recruitment site for digital and IT professionals, as part of an effort to improve to way government hires, develops and deploys digital talent across the public service.

The platform simplifies the application process for individuals who specialise in digital and IT, and provides government agencies with lists of pre-qualified candidates that match their digital talent needs.

Anita Anand, president of Canada’s Treasury Board, said the Digital Talent Platform “will improve the way we recruit digital and IT professionals as we work to better deliver services to Canadians in this digital age”.

Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), a union which government consulted during the development of the platform, said that PIPSC was in favour of “any effort to leverage the skillsets of government employees and streamline the hiring process – ideally reducing the need to hire contractors while full-time permanent jobs sit vacant”.

“This initiative has the potential to deliver on both efficiency and financial prudence, benefiting the government and Canadians alike,” she said.  

Read more: Letter from Ottawa: a new year begins quietly, but much lies ahead

The platform is a key component of the Directive on Digital Talent, which aims to support the development of the public service’s digital community through the collection and analysis of data for planning, talent sourcing and talent management purposes.

The announcement of the platform follows a series of enquiries into the Canadian government’s IT systems in which members of parliament denounced the lack of incentives for digital talent to join the public service, citing siloed systems and low pay compared to the private sector.

In a similar move, the UK government announced at the end of November that it had launched Government Digital and Data, a new brand that brings together digital and tech specialists working across government and through which top tech talent – including data analysts, software developers and infrastructure engineers – would be recruited.

Read more: Tech talent urged to ‘give working for government a go’ as UK seeks to boost skills

Beef up UK Civil Service Commission’s powers, says independent panel  

The remit of the UK Civil Service Commission should be expanded to include reporting annually on the state of the civil service and making recommendations for improvement, according to an independent commission.

The UK Governance Project – which aims to make practical recommendations to improve governance within the UK’s central institutions and whose members include former ministers and officials – published a report last week in which it called for the Civil Service Commission to be given beefed up powers.

These would include assessing the state of the civil service and reporting its findings, and investigating alleged breaches of the Civil Service Code (which outlines the values and standards of behaviour that civil servants are expected to follow) – in part through a “confidential ethics hotline”.

The Civil Service Commission is an executive non-departmental public body which checks that civil servants are appointed on merit “on the basis of fair and open competition” and helps safeguard impartiality.

Read more: How officials and ministers can work together

The UK Governance Project also recommended that a Royal Commission be formed to establish what the roles, capabilities and responsibilities of the civil service should be and to “examine whether the civil service should have a role as a check or second opinion on the powers wielded by an administration”.

Other recommendations include legislating so that ministers cannot direct civil servants to act in contradiction of the Civil Service Code; making public the models used for policy development; and improving the accountability of departmental permanent secretaries, including by having them report to parliament annually for the veracity of statements made by their department, the keeping of public records for decision-making, and use of public money.

It also suggests that permanent secretaries should no longer operate on five year fixed term contracts but be “subject to standards of performance and delivery”.  

Read more: UK civil service review proposes giving ministers a greater role in some appointments

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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