In October, New York City launched its Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy. A 116-page document, the strategy says “Like software itself, AI will touch virtually every area of life in the years ahead, including everything from basic scientific research to the operation of various products and services, and its impacts will be felt from a personal to a societal scale. For these reasons, the City of New York believes that an ecosystem approach grounded in digital rights is necessary to maximize benefits, minimize harms, and ensure the responsible application of AI.”
The strategy also comes with a supplement- a primer for policymakers and city officials that explains what AI is, and how to think about ethics, governance and policy related to the technology.
Announcing its publication, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said “Artificial intelligence can transform how we live and work – but incorporating it into daily life in our city requires a thoughtful, comprehensive analysis of its risks and opportunities.”
New York City Chief Technology Officer John Paul Farmer, whose office has previously released a strategy for the Internet of Things and an Internet Master Plan addressing broadband and access equity issues, said “Through the NYC AI Strategy, we are setting the Big Apple on the path to make the most of artificial intelligence, to protect people from harm, and to build a better society for all. It is critical that AI be both productive and fair, and that’s why we are sending a clear message: In the age of AI, digital rights are human rights.”
A variety of experts, including prior guests and contributors to Tech Policy Press, issued statements acknowledging the publication of the strategy. DJ Patil, Former Chief Data Scientist of the United States. In the Obama Administration, said “This is a major step forward in cities establishing how to effectively and responsibly use AI to support delivering critical services.”
Dr. Brandie Nonnecke, Founding Director of the CITRIS Policy Lab at the University of California, Berkeley and Technology & Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School noted that “NYC has developed one of the first city-level strategies to better support its responsible development and implementation of AI,” while Mutale Nkonde, Founder & CEO, AI for the People said the report “is an important step towards building a technical and social architecture in which anyone can make it here, because that’s New York, New York.”
Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, a responsible AI expert and now Director of Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability at Twitter, said “Particularly for policymakers, this report provides a starting point to understand AI/ML as a still nascent technology that, if unchecked, can implement and perpetuate systemic biases. It is encouraging to see this degree of thoughtfulness emerging from New York City, and I hope it permeates into implementation.”
But the document wasn’t without its critics- the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP)’s Executive Director, Albert Fox Cahn, blasted it for not looking critically at the use of AI and related technologies by the New York City Police Department, which has indeed misled the public about its use of facial recognition. Last summer a lawsuit led by STOP and the Legal Aid Society found the NYPD had spent $159 million dollars on surveillance tools though what Wired magazine’s Sidney Fussell wrote was ‘secret fund’ to escape public scrutiny.
I’d encourage readers to take a look at the strategy. We may see other cities issues such strategies in the future, and this document is likely to be a reference.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.