Does NJ need an AI czar? State senator says it's the intelligent move.

As artificial intelligence gains traction in almost every aspect of our world, one New Jersey lawmaker is looking to put an expert in charge of how artificial intelligence implemented in the state's government.

State Sen. Troy Singleton, a Democrat representing the state's 7th Legislative District in Burlington County, has introduced a bill that would create New Jersey's first artificial intelligence officer — an "AI czar." He spoke with WNYC's Michael Hill about his proposal on "Morning Edition" this week.

The transcript of their discussion below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Michael Hill: Let's start at the beginning here. How is artificial intelligence already used in New Jersey state government?

State Sen. Troy Singleton: Well, currently, there's a practice for very predictive analysis that the government uses for various programs. And as there is still [only] a nascent regulation scheme around it, we are wanting to make sure that we set the right framework by having an expert be employed by state government to be able to set forth a framework around how we regulate AI and its uses here in the state government in New Jersey.

The good and bad of AI has been everywhere in the news for the last year or so. What spurred you to introduce this particular bill?

Well, my guiding principles around this space fall into two buckets. One is that governance should be focused primarily on the impact of these algorithmic tools on individual civil rights and opportunities for advancement, as well as access to critical services.

My second main point is in building transparency, which I think is critical. Often these systems work opaquely and are used increasingly in a wide variety of impactful settings, so we wanted to make sure that we have the right parameters around it, and that is what spurred me to take action.

Sen. Singleton, which state entities do you think are most primed to see benefits from AI and automation? And what's your at risk for adverse consequences?

So I think from a benefit standpoint, I think our Department of Human Services as well as our Department of Health, two of the largest state agencies that we have, will see enormous benefit.

I think areas where we want to make sure that there is not a negative impact would be through our Division of Elections, and the Department of State that houses the Division of Elections. So the ability to make sure that there are no artificial intelligence systems that create that cloud of controversy or cloud of skepticism is going to be critically important.

While the artificial intelligence officer is maybe the most notable part of the bill, it would also create an AI advisory council. Why add that extra level of oversight?

Well, I think it's important that the collective wisdom of the group be a part of that. And I think having a broader taskforce to help develop and make recommendations concerning the adoption of AI, which would be consistent with what we saw from the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights that the White House worked on and published.

I think it just adds another layer of not just scrutiny, but accountability to make sure that these systems that we'll employ don't have the detriment of disenfranchising people or creating other types of challenges.

Sen. Singleton, on a personal level here, what problems with or shortcomings of generative AI are you most eager to see the czar tackle if this becomes law?

I'm really going be curious to see if we could create a system that actually is going to make the delivery of state government services quicker, faster, definitely more efficient and hopefully more cost-saving. So the artificial intelligence implementation officer has a heavy road in front of them, but I believe we'll find the right person to lead us through it.

And senator, I know you just introduced this bill. Where does it stand right now in the Legislature?

Right now the bill's currently in committee. We're winding down the, the beginning [of the legislative] session. We usually go on a summer break, so I think we'll have time over the course of this summer to be able to have some more thoughtful dialogue and conversation with experts.

And then ideally in the fall, we want to really hit the ground running and try and advance this full steam ahead.

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