American leadership is essential in establishing norms and laws to “determine how we both glean the promise and manage the peril” of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and digital economic and social platforms used to connect billions of people around the world, a White House adviser told VOA.
The Biden administration has rolled out a number of initiatives on the topic — most recently, an executive order that aims to set new AI safety and security standards. That order relies on cooperation from private developers and other countries, “because the attackers are in one set of countries, the infrastructure is in another and the victims are global,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology at the National Security Council.
Neuberger sat down with VOA White House Correspondent Anita Powell to explain these complex, compelling technologies and how she thinks they have exposed the worst but also the best in humanity.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
VOA: Thank you so much for sitting down with VOA today. Can you walk us through the concrete outcomes of the recent meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the areas you cover — cybersecurity, AI and the digital economy?
Anne Neuberger, White House deputy national security adviser: Of course, strategic technologies are very important to both of our countries’ growth and national security — and we’re global players on a global stage. The most important part of the discussion was two leaders coming together to say: While we are in competition, we're committed to working together on areas where we can collaborate - areas like climate change, like discussions of what are the rules for artificial intelligence.
VOA: Would you assess that the meeting made any progress, especially on AI regulation?
Neuberger: Certainly very good discussions related to an agreement for the countries to sit down and establish a working group on AI [about] appropriate guardrails and guidelines in this area.
VOA: I'm going to stick with AI and the administration's recent moves, like the AI Bill of Rights and also the attempt to set some norms at the recent London summit on AI. Why does the administration think U.S. leadership matters so much here?
Neuberger: For two reasons. First, the United States is a committed democracy and AI is a major technology that brings both promise and peril. It is up to us to determine how we both glean the promise and manage the peril. President Biden has made that clear in his game-changing executive order that, as a country, we must manage the perils in order to glean the promise.
VOA: Speaking of the perils of AI, what is the administration doing to prevent the malicious use of generative AI in both conflicts and contests? I'm talking about conflicts like Israel and Ukraine, but also contests like the upcoming elections in Congo, in Taiwan and here in the United States.
Neuberger: We've seen new AI models that generate very realistic videos, very realistic images. In terms of generative AI related to elections, I want to lift up one of the voluntary commitments that the president negotiated, which was around watermarking: having a visible and potentially invisible mark on an AI-generated image or video that notes that this is AI-generated, to alert a viewer. An invisible mark could be used so that, even if there are attempts to remove this mark, the platforms themselves can still be able to portray that message and help educate individuals. This is still an area of evolving technology. It's getting better and better. But companies made commitments to start marking content that they generate. And I know a number of social media platforms are also making commitments to ensure that they display messages to help consumers who see such content know that it is generated by artificial intelligence.
VOA: Moving on to cybersecurity and malign actors like North Korea and Russia, what is the administration doing to curb their work in this area?
Neuberger: We see North Korea really using cyberattacks as a way to get money because they're such a heavily sanctioned regime. So North Korea moved from targeting banks to targeting ... cryptocurrency infrastructure around the world. And the White House has had a focused effort to bring together all elements we have to fight that with Treasury Department designations.
There'll be further designations coming up for the cryptocurrency mixers that launder funds stolen from those cryptocurrency infrastructures. We also have been working with the industry to press them to improve the cybersecurity of their systems as well as law enforcement. U.S. law enforcement has been cooperating with partners around the world to take down that server infrastructure and to arrest the individuals who are responsible for some of this activity.
VOA: Tell us a little bit about the counter-ransomware initiative you’re working on.
Neuberger: Absolutely. Essentially, criminal groups, many of which are based in Russia with infrastructure operating from around the world, are locking systems ... in order to request that the system owners pay ransom. In the United States alone in the last two years, $2.3 billion was paid in ransom. It's a fundamentally transnational fight. ... What we've done is assemble 48 countries, Interpol [and] the European Union to take this on together, because we know that the attackers are in one set of countries, the infrastructure is in another, and the victims are global. As the White House built this initiative, we ensure that the leadership is diverse.
So, for example, the leaders of the effort to build capacity around the world are Nigeria and Germany — intentionally, a country from Africa and a country from Europe, because their needs are different. And we wanted to ensure that as we're helping countries build the capacity to fight this, we're sensitive to the different needs of a country like Nigeria, like Rwanda, like South Africa, like Indonesia. Similarly, there's an effort focused on exercising information, sharing information together.
You asked about the key deliverables from this most recent meeting. I'll note three big ones. First, we launched a website and a system where countries can collaborate when they're fighting a ransomware attack, where they can ask for help [or] learn from others who fought a similar attack. Second, we made the first ever joint policy statement — a big deal — 48 countries committing that countries themselves will not pay ransoms, because we know this is a financially driven problem. And third, the United States committed that we would be sharing bad wallets [that] criminals are using to move money around the world so other countries can help stop that money as it moves as well. So that's an example of three of the many commitments that came out of the recent meeting.
VOA: Let’s talk about the Global South, which has pioneered development of really interesting digital economic technologies like Kenya’s M-PESA, which was rolled out in, like, 2007. Now the U.S. has Venmo, which is modeled on that. How is the U.S. learning from the developing world in the development of these projects and also the perils of these products?
Neuberger: M-PESA is a fantastic example of the promise of digital tech. Essentially, Kenya took the fact that they had a telecom infrastructure, and built their banking infrastructure riding on that, so they leapt ahead to enable people across the country to do transactions online. When you look at Ukraine in the context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine quickly moved their government online, really building on lessons learned from Estonia, to enable Ukrainians — many who are in Poland and Hungary — to continue to engage with their government in a digital way.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is tremendously proud of that Ukrainian project and is using it as a model as we look to other countries around the world. So we're learning a lot from the creativity and innovation; what we want to bring to that is American development, skill and aid, and also plugging in American tech companies who can accelerate the rollout of these projects in countries around the world, because we still believe in the promise of digital. But you mentioned the peril, and that's where cybersecurity comes in.
VOA: This lines us up perfectly for my final question, about the promise and the peril. In the digital world, people can hide behind anonymity and say and do awful things using tools that were meant to improve the world. How do you keep your faith in humanity?
Neuberger: It's a tremendously important question. It's one that's personally important to me. My great-grandparents lost their lives in Nazi death camps. And those members of my family who survived — some survived through the horrors of the camp, some managed to hide out under false identities. And I often think that the promise of digital has also made our identities very evident. Sometimes when I'm just browsing Amazon online, and it recommends a set of books, I think to myself: I wonder how I'd hide if what happened to my grandparents came for me. So as a result, I think that even as we engage with these technologies, we have to ensure that vulnerable populations are protected.
So, the president's working with AI companies to say companies have an obligation to protect vulnerable populations online, to ensure that we're using AI to detect where there's bullying online, where there's hate speech that goes against common practices that needs to be addressed; where there are AI-generated images related to children or women or other vulnerable populations, that we use AI to find them and remove them; and certainly use law enforcement and the power of law enforcement partnerships around the world to deter that as well. Freedom of speech is a part of free societies. Freedom from harm needs to be a fight we take on together.
VOA: Thank you so much for speaking to our audience.
Neuberger: Thank you.