OECD on AI Policy Observatory launch: ‘The technology is not terribly well understood by policy makers’

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development has officially launched its AI Policy Observatory, a project whose mission is to share best practices around the creation of artificial intelligence regulations. The interactive website contains a wealth of information designed to help politicians and regulators stay on top of a rapidly evolving field.

The AI Policy Observatory was officially unveiled last week at a conference in Paris. The previous year, the OECD had announced a set of principles to guide AI policy, which included respect for the rule of law, human rights, democratic values, diversity, and transparency. That forms the foundation of the AI Policy Observatory, which in addition to highlighting those principles, pulls together information on policy discussions in a wide range of sectors, looks at how different countries are approaching the issues, and includes real-time maps tracking news and research.

VentureBeat spoke with Audrey Plonk, the new head of Digital Economy Policy at the OECD. Plonk joined the OECD last year after more than a decade at Intel, where she was most recently director of government and policy.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

VentureBeat: Why did the OECD create the Observatory?

Audrey Plonk: The motivation really came from the recommandations that the OECD did last year, what we call the principles. The thought was how do we bring information about AI policy that is valuable to other policy makers and decision makers and get this dialogue going on implementing these policies? This is not just for the OECD. We’ve created these principles, and that’s great. We could just put them on the shelf and walk away. But instead, we wanted to build a platform that’s interactive. The Observatory is built with that notion, putting data in the hands of people who can use it instead of [it] sitting in a database locked away in a basement in Washington.

VentureBeat: Can you describe how the website works?

Plonk: It will be a completely open platform. What we’re launching is Phase 1, and then we’ll move into Phase 2 and so on. The Observatory is constructed around four pillars. One is the principles. People can go and read about them and see examples of implementations. There’s a second pillar where we talk about policy areas. We have divisions that work on every aspect of the economy, work, jobs, skills, trade, etc. AI permeates all of these verticals. In the policy area, we’re looking at bringing together the OECD policy work that deals with different sectors. The third pillar is trends and data. Here, we’re collaborating with LinkedIn to bring in data on job skills from their platform, and with Microsoft research data. Where is research coming from and who is conducting it? There is also all of this OECD data because we have lots of databases internally that we use for our work. Finally, the fourth pillar is country-based initiatives. We’ve surveyed OECD members and non-members. We’ve taken that and also tracked innovation by other stakeholders. So you can click on a country and look at different aspects of what a country is doing, whether it’s investments in research or its economic AI strategy.

VentureBeat: What’s your ambition for this project?

Plonk: We really hope that a broad community will use it. It might be a benefit for governments, but we hope everyone will implement the principles. If you are a small country and you are trying to develop a national strategy for AI, you can go to the Observatory and see what other countries have done. And you can match yourself against your like-minded peers. These countries may not be expert, but they need to start thinking about different policy aspects of AI. And we hope researchers would want to see what OECD says about AI and skills and what might be needed to implement some kind of labor policy they are developing.

VentureBeat: At the recent conference to launch the Observatory, did you detect overall a sense of optimism or pessimism when its comes to the future of AI?

Plonk: It may be early, but I will take a little bit of a risk. What I’ve heard so far is that people are here because they see an opportunity, and they also see some risk. And they believe the risk can be managed with good policy. I would say the prevailing attitude is positive. You don’t hear anyone saying we should shut this down. But the technology is not terribly well understood by policy makers. And it’s easy to get scared when there’s a lack of information. So we’re trying to bridge that gap and encourage good policy.

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