SANTA CRUZ — County leaders this week trumpeted their early development and adoption of artificial intelligence use policy shaping how government employees will implement next-generation tools into the future.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday morning to approve the new Artificial Intelligence Appropriate Use policy, an issue brought to the body in June in the wake of Open AI launching its free ChatGPT chatbot. Such software applications attempt to mimic human conversation through text or voice and this program set a new standard as “a powerful application capable of providing detailed, coherent responses to complex questions across a wide variety of subjects,” according to a county staff report developed — it notes — with help from an artificial intelligence tool.
“It’s unquestionably a transformative technology and I think that the policy that’s being proposed strikes this balance between harnessing the potential but also recognizing some of the risks associated with, in particular, data privacy and other elements that the county is taking a very serious look on,” policy sponsor and board Chairperson Zach Friend said prior to Tuesday’s vote.
Similarly, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order Sept. 6 to study the statewide development, use, and risks of artificial intelligence technology.
At Tuesday’s meeting, 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson described artificial intelligence as “somewhat scary, in a way,” adding that the county was headed into uncharted territory that warranted a close eye on issues of accuracy and accountability. The board’s June direction to staff was that the new policy should remain flexible and adapt as uses evolve and advance over time. Tuesday’s vote precedes a planned formal rollout scheduled for early October.
The policy, developed through the collaborative work of an interagency ad-hoc committee, allows and encourages use of artificial intelligence in county operations, with guidelines aimed at avoiding misuse and sharing of sensitive information. The committee’s members consulted with other jurisdictions and interested organizations from the technology sector to solicit ideas for an initial AI policy, according to the county report. The county’s Information Services Department also created a dashboard in May to begin quantifying staff usage trends of ChatGPT and the similar Google Bard, while the committee convened a 12-member AI Early Adopters Workgroup last month, including volunteer representatives from six county departments.
“The folks I’ve spoken to in the technology industry are actually incredibly impressed by the county’s approach on this and really optimistic,” 1st District Supervisor Manu Koenig said. “I have to say I am, as well. The fact that we have a flexible but responsible policy here is really encouraging and I also love that we have an inter-division working group looking at this.“
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