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Meet the woman who showed ChatGPT to President Biden and helped set the course for AI

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Meet the woman who showed ChatGPT to President Biden and helped set the course for AI

a day in In March 2023, Arati Prabhakar took a laptop to the Oval Office and showed Joe Biden the future. Six months later, the president issued a broad executive order that set a regulatory course for AI.

All this happened because ChatGPT had surprised the world. In an instant it became very, very obvious that the United States needed to accelerate its efforts to regulate the AI ​​industry and adopt policies to take advantage of it. While the potential benefits were limitless (Social Security customer service that works!), so were the potential downsides, such as floods of misinformation or even, in the opinion of some, human extinction. Someone had to prove it to the president.

The job fell to Prabhakar, because she is the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and has Cabinet status as the president’s top science and technology advisor; She had already been methodically educating senior officials about the transformative power of AI. But she also has the experience and bureaucratic knowledge to impact the most powerful person in the world.

Born in India and raised in Texas, Prabhakar has a PhD in applied physics from Caltech and previously headed two US agencies: the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency. He also spent 15 years in Silicon Valley as a venture capitalist, including as president of Interval Research, Paul Allen’s legendary technology incubator, and served as vice president or chief technology officer at several companies.

Prabhakar took up his current job in October 2022, just in time for AI to dominate the agenda, and helped push that 20,000-word executive order, which mandates safety standards, drives innovation, promotes AI in government and education, and even tries to mitigate job loss. He replaced biologist Eric Lander, who had resigned after an investigation concluded he ran a toxic workplace. Prabhakar is the first person of color and the first woman to be appointed director of the office.

We spoke at the kitchen table of Prabhakar’s condo in Silicon Valley, a simply decorated space that, if I remember correctly, is very different from OSTP’s offices in the ghostly, intimidating Eisenhower Executive Office Building in DC. Fortunately, California vibes prevailed and our conversation was very unintimidating, even calm. We talk about how Bruce Springsteen appeared at Biden’s first ChatGPT demo, his hopes for a semiconductor renaissance in the US, and why Biden’s war on cancer is different from anyone else’s war on cancer. president. I also asked him about the status of the vacant position of the nation’s chief technology officer: a single person, ideally a bit of a geek, whose job revolves around the technological issues driving the 21st century.

Steven Levy: Why did you sign up for this job?

Arati Prabhakar: Because President Biden asked. He believes that science and technology allow us to do great things, which is exactly how I think about its purpose.

What kind of big things?

OSTP’s mission is to advance the entire science and technology ecosystem. We have a system that follows a set of priorities. We spend a huge amount on health R&D. But both public and corporate funding focus heavily on pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and very little on prevention practices or clinical care, things that could change health rather than addressing diseases. We also have to confront the climate crisis. For technologies like clean energy, we don’t do a great job of taking things from research and turning them into impact for Americans. It is the pending task of this country.

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