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Guest opinion: Utah is leading the way with AI. Regulators should take note

By Neil Chilson and Stafford Palmieri Sievert - | Jun 8, 2024

Artificial intelligence is at the heart of a rapid technological transformation happening right now in Utah. Across fields and industries, Utahns are using newly developed AI technologies in novel ways to improve their work, solve long-standing challenges and explore new possibilities.

For years, Utah has been leading the way in adopting new technologies to strengthen our state’s economy and improve the lives of all Utahns. With AI, it should come as no surprise that we continue to do so.

In health care, for example, AI is already being used for telemedicine and behavioral health, with startups like Videra Health using it to identify and prioritize urgent concerns and quickly summarize key information for clinicians. Utah employers have taken notice, and companies like Everee are using AI to assist employees with menial administrative tasks and speed up time-sensitive processes like payroll while identifying mistakes that can otherwise cause delays. It’s a great example of how AI can both speed up and improve tasks, and there are countless more opportunities where AI can help.

AI isn’t just a boon for the business community. Seeing an opportunity to transform the traditional learning experience into something more interactive and tailored to each student, the Jordan School District is using AI to create lesson plans and worksheets, and keep students engaged, in the process teaching them how to use important digital tools and new technologies that they will rely on in the future. At the same time, the Utah Geological Survey is using AI machine learning to produce more accurate, complex geologic maps of the terrain, speeding up existing processes and allowing for a far more comprehensive analysis. The data this new mapping procedure has revealed has crucial implications for the impact of glacier movements on surrounding areas, including ski resorts like Snowbird.

With all the opportunities AI presents, it’s natural that so many are embracing it. After all, AI has the power to bring about enormous, positive change. In fact, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has realized the impacts AI can have, saying that they are “optimistic about our ability to use these AI technologies wisely and effectively.”

By some estimates, AI is poised to add trillions to world GDP, create entire new industries and restructure existing industries. Unfortunately, AI faces numerous existing and threatened regulatory hurdles which could stifle its development and prevent its full realization. While there are no doubt challenges AI presents that will require some measure of regulation, guidelines must be both clear and responsible to ensure that the technology can be implemented safely without impeding its development.

With all the fear and uncertainty in the press surrounding AI, there is a frequent temptation for legislators to take action, thinking that doing something must be better than standing still. But at this early stage in AI’s development, rushing to produce a fix can cause far more harm than good — especially considering the complexity of the issues involved.

Here, Utah is leading again. AI legislation S.B. 149, recently signed by Gov. Cox, takes an incremental and humble approach, generally ensuring that existing laws apply to AI abuses and establishing an AI Learning Lab to better understand the technology and its real-world impacts. Like all legislation, S.B. 149 should be watched closely as it is applied across Utah. Still, its prudence provides a marked contrast to the reactionary approaches being adopted in other states. For example, California’s S.B. 1047, which just passed their Senate, would require AI developers to get government permission before developing certain advanced tools and would create a whole new bureaucracy empowered to throw AI entrepreneurs in jail for failing to meet complex and vague reporting standards. California’s bill is motivated by purely hypothetical concerns while the Utah legislation is grounded in what we know now and is designed to help regulators learn more about the best future approach to AI regulation.

Although early use cases for AI are promising, there are still many unknowns. If excessive regulation hinders AI’s development and deters too many people from adopting it, we’ll not only lose out on its benefits but also miss out on gathering important data regarding its public use — data which will be key for informing effective regulatory policies in Utah and around the globe. It’s essential that we understand how AI is actually used out in the real world, both to ensure we adopt effective best practices and so we can identify the kinds of unexpected harms that are otherwise impossible to anticipate.

In crafting AI policies, regulators must bear in mind that our goals in regulating AI are not mutually exclusive: With the right balance, we can safeguard against abuse without stalling the technology’s development. Getting this right will allow us to bring to fruition a safer, more prosperous AI-driven future, from which everyone — Utahns included — will benefit.

Neil Chilson is head of AI policy at the Utah-based Abundance Institute and former chief technologist at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. He lives in Arlington, Virginia. Stafford Palmieri Sievert is the Utah Republican Party secretary and a general partner at Foundations VC, which invests in technology automating and scaling the built environment. She lives in Morgan County.

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