Foreign officials ramp up efforts to influence AI policy in Washington

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Foreign officials are mounting a full-court press across Washington in search of ways to shape the U.S. government’s development and regulation of artificial intelligence tools capable of remaking the ways economies are regulated and how wars are fought.

The charm offensive is aimed at Biden administration regulators, congressional staffers and the Department of Defense’s decision-makers. Foreign governments see them as critical to shaping the growth of AI worldwide.

Europe wants to be the pace-setting AI cop, and NATO’s newest member, Sweden, is eager for the U.S. to follow the European approach to technology regulation. Both sides of the Atlantic see immense promise and looming headaches as the powerful technology takes hold in the coming years.

Per-Arne Hjelmborn, director general for trade in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visited Washington last week to bend the ears of his Biden administration counterparts on economic issues that he said increasingly revolve around technology and AI.

AI is a top priority of the Swedish government, Mr. Hjelmborn told a crowd assembled at the opening of the Swedish Embassy’s new AI exhibit.

“I also see great potential for more cooperation between Sweden as a country and the U.S. on AI,” Mr. Hjelmborn said. “Both Sweden and the U.S. are world leaders on innovation and technology development, and we share also a strong belief on innovation in international cooperation.”

Visitors to the House of Sweden along the Potomac River will see new tools at the AI exhibit, such as security cameras from Axis Communications built with privacy protections in mind. The southern Sweden company, which operates in some 50 countries, uses AI-based “dynamic masking” on real-time video from the cameras to monitor people’s movements while obscuring their faces or entire bodies, dependent upon various privacy settings.

The European Union’s first out-of-the-gate data privacy regulations have shaped technology products worldwide for more than five years, and EU officials want to take a similar lead role in implementing AI rules through the EU AI Act, which the European Parliament approved in March. The legislation bans AI applications involving emotion recognition, “scraping” of facial images for surveillance and manipulating human behavior, among other things.

Mr. Hjelmborn promoted the EU AI Act at the Swedish Embassy and said he hoped it would “inspire the Americans to look into European solutions” to common risks.

Mr. Hjelmborn’s audience included members of the Biden administration, notably the Department of Health and Human Services’ AI chief, but other proponents of the EU AI Act have huddled with congressional staffers on Capitol Hill.

Former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho advocated for the European model of AI regulation at a gathering of congressional staffers in the Rayburn House Office Building on Friday organized by the nonprofit RegulatingAI.

Appearing via videoconference alongside a Kenyan computer scientist and two of India’s top technology minds, Mr. Aho told the lawmakers’ top aides that they should not view regulation as negative.

“Regulation can play a positive role if it is smart,” Mr. Aho said.

He said the European model has some weaknesses but has helped scientists and technologists know what is acceptable and what is not.

Before taking his pitch for European regulation to Congress, Mr. Aho took it to China.

Mr. Aho appeared at the Boao Forum for Asia’s annual conference last week.

On a panel moderated by a Chinese state-run broadcaster, he participated in a discussion on AI, quantum computing and controllable nuclear fusion, according to the forum’s website. The forum said Mr. Aho viewed energy and aging issues as major concerns and that AI development would effectively address aging challenges.

‘Proliferation’ fears

Foreign governments see AI’s value as something resembling the protection provided to nations from oil and nuclear weapons proliferation, which afforded countries economic and national security and a seat at the table of global decision-makers.

When the Department of Defense’s top AI office assembled
leading technological minds for a meeting in Washington in February, the Pentagon included government officials from Singapore, South Korea and Britain. The group participated in an unclassified discussion on the responsible use of AI for defense.

America is winning over foreign officials to its AI agenda, too. In March, the U.N. General Assembly approved its first AI resolution, based on a draft sponsored by the U.S.

At a Group of Seven meeting in Japan last year, inaugural U.S. cyberspace Ambassador Nathaniel C. Fick pushed for a lighter regulative touch than his European counterparts, according to Politico Europe. After a Czech official sought to sell nations on Europe’s restriction-heavy rulebook, Mr. Fick’s American alternative reportedly included no bans.

Sweden understands the popular impression of the global technology rulemaking environment, where the U.S. is widely believed to innovate while Europe regulates.

Swedish Ambassador Urban Ahlin told the crowd at the House of Sweden that his country may not be home to a domestic Google or OpenAI and may not produce chips to match California-based Nvidia’s, but he believes his nation has a role to play in AI development.

“Our expansive, collaborative environment, across industry, academia and government, enables Sweden to be a trailblazer in applied AI,” he said. “Not least in public interest areas such as life science, clean tech and social sciences.”

The Swedish government’s approach to tackling AI challenges is unlikely to have unqualified support from Americans, particularly those concerned about online censorship. The Swedish exhibit on AI touts the Swedish Psychological Defense Agency, launched in 2022, tasked with countering “bad” information in an era of AI-fueled misinformation.

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