The Promises and Perils of AI for America's Youngest Generation

Mar 18, 2024 3:45:38 PM


President Joe Biden, in his recent State of the Union address, acknowledged one of the most urgent issues of our time: the rapid advancement of technology and the effect it has on our children:

“But there’s more to do to pass my Unity Agenda. […]
Pass bipartisan privacy legislation to protect our children online.
Harness the promise of A.I. and protect us from its peril.
Ban A.I. voice impersonation and more!”

— President Joe Biden

The State of the Union speech is meticulously scrutinized, including every word, theme, and punctuation mark. An issue's inclusion in the Speech signals its significant national importance to the American people and policymakers on Capitol Hill.

The advancement of technology and artificial intelligence and their effects on children certainly qualify as being of significant national importance—potentially affecting every facet of our lives.

Technology and artificial intelligence are developing at breakneck speed. So fast that policymakers nationwide are struggling to enact the necessary guardrails to protect us from the challenges and risks emerging daily.

The Perils of AI

The ban on AI voice impersonation proposed by President Biden acknowledges the sobering fact that AI technology is already being used to harass, bully, threaten, demean, and mislead. We’ve seen the profound harm such technology can have on students. AI is “fueling a new bullying outrage,” with students creating so-called “deepnudes” to victimize their peers. There is a proposed federal ban on so-called deepfakes, or digitally altered pornographic images, a move aimed at addressing cyberbullying.

Other concerns include the use of AI to violate children's privacy rights. Worries have already been raised surrounding private equity monetizing the “educational journeys of tens of millions of children” by selling possibly discriminatory predictive analytics products to schools and YouTube surfacing AI-created disinformation and conspiracy videos as educational content for kids.

Still, as President Biden noted, along with the “perils” is “promise” in AI.

The Promise of AI

This promise includes the use of chatbots to help youth struggling with their mental health and even the creation of wearable devices, such as Blindsight (created by students), that “greatly increase the independence of the blind” through “integrating machine learning with haptic feedback.”

I was pleased to hear President Biden give the critical issue of AI’s impact on children the attention it deserves in such a high-profile forum. His call for reform is a significant milestone in prioritizing child safety in the digital age.

I hope this milestone underscores the critical urgency of the issue for policymakers across the country and serves as an impetus for them to quickly and responsibly address the urgent need for regulations. Without protections, the dangers of AI leave our children vulnerable to exploitation and harm.

For regulation to be effective, it must go beyond mere rhetoric; it must be comprehensive, proactive, rooted in principles of child safety and rights, including privacy, and give America’s youngest generation a seat at the table.

Significantly, this issue was referenced in the State of the Union. Going forward, it is imperative that the perspective of youth be centered.

By working with those whose lives will be forever intertwined with this technology, we will develop regulatory and legal frameworks that create a safer and more inclusive online environment for our children, protecting and respecting their rights now and in the future.

This piece was originally published on Medium


Shakti Belway

is Executive Director of the National Center for Youth Law, a nonprofit organization that has advocated for children, youth, families, and communities for more than 50 years. During her career, Shakti has worked in human rights advocacy, as a civil rights attorney, policy reformer, and litigator, as an educator, and as a child and youth advocate.

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