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As artificial intelligence (A.I.) and automated learning become increasingly popular, Massachusetts is joining a small group of states regulating their governments’ use of this technology. After being reviewed by the Massachusetts House and Senate in the beginning of the year, a bill aiming to establish a state commission to review government use of A.I. has been passed on to the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. The bill, referred to as S.1876/H.2701, defines artificial intelligence and automated-decision making, sets out a framework for the proposed commission, and outlines the commission’s responsibilities. In the coming months, the Joint Committee will issue its recommendations regarding S.1876/H.2701, which will determine its future in the Massachusetts Legislature. In the meantime, the bill’s current provisions provide a glimpse into the regulatory system being created regarding A.I.’s use in the Bay State.

What is artificial intelligence and automated decision-making?

 S.1876/H.2701 defines A.I. as “computerized methods and tools, including but not limited to machine learning and natural language processing, that act in a way that resembles human cognitive abilities when it comes to solving problems or performing certain tasks.” Furthermore, the bill defines automated decision-making as “any computer program, method, statistical model, or process that aims to aid or replace human decision-making using algorithms or artificial intelligence.” The common element between the technologies is the human-like ability to think, adapt, and in the case of automated decision-making, act. The bill goes on to explain that the government may use this technology to analyze “complex datasets about human populations and government services or other activities” and “generate scores, predictions, classifications, or recommendations used by agencies to make decisions that impact human welfare.” In general, the bill seems to suggest that the government will use A.I. to scrutinize data more efficiently in order to make state agencies more effective and adaptable.

Who will be on the proposed commission? What will it do?

S.1876/H.2701’s proposed commission will consist of 20 members from the state government, prominent NGOs, and scholars from local universities. Specifically, the commission includes the attorney general, the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, the secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and scholars from both Harvard University and MIT, among others. Notably, many of the government positions on the commission are allowed to assign a designee to take their place on the commission. Overall, S.1876/H.2701 provides the opportunity for prominent leaders in government, law, technology, and social justice to work collaboratively to regulate the state’s use of A.I.

S.1876/H.2701 tasks the commission with “studying and making recommendations relative to the use by the commonwealth of automated decision systems that may affect human welfare, including but not limited to the legal rights and privileges of individuals.” Broadly, the bill requires the commission to survey any existing state use of A.I. and evaluate all policies regarding procedure, training, testing, and transparency of these systems and related activity. Additionally, the bill directly requires the commission to determine whether uses of automated decision systems affect the constitutional rights of individuals, or “result in disparate outcomes for individuals or communities.” From its determinations, the commission will be responsible for proposing new or remedial policies to address significant gaps found in the current regulatory framework. To this end, the commission will submit an annual report by December 31st of each year to the Governor, the clerks of the House and Senate, and the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, detailing the commission’s activities and its recommendations for regulatory or legislative actions.

If passed, how will this bill affect us (the residents of Massachusetts)?

 S.1876/H.2701 will make information about government use of A.I. more detailed and broadly accessible to the public. Specifically, it calls for “public disclosure and transparency procedures necessary to ensure… individuals are aware of the use of the systems and understand their related… rights.” In short, the bill is aimed not only at improving the procedures and policies of A.I. use by the Massachusetts government, but also at ensuring transparency about these policies and providing the public with information about government sponsored automated learning systems.

Are other states also acting to regulate the use of A.I. and automated decision-making?

Yes. Currently, there are bills moving through the state governments of both Washington and Illinois addressing automated decision-making systems and data analytics. Similar to S.1876/H.2701, the Washington bill relates to the state government’s use of automated decision-making and aims to protect individuals by providing transparency and predictability. The Illinois bill specifically focuses on the use of “predictive data analytics” to assess individuals’ credit-worthiness. Unlike the other two bills, it extends to any person or entity (not just the government), and specifically prohibits the use of race or zip code in determining a consumer’s credit-worthiness.

On a broader scale, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), has led the charge in regulating A.I. and automated decision-making. Specifically, Article 13 of the GDPR requires that when data is collected from an individual, the collector must disclose “the existence of automated decision-making… meaningful information about the logic involved as well as the significance and the envisaged consequences of such processing for the data subject.” It remains to be seen whether the U.S. federal or state governments will adopt legislation as extensive as the GDPR, however, with S.1876/H.2701 Massachusetts appears to be moving more in this direction.

You can read the entire text of S.1876/H.2701 and follow its progress through the state legislature here. Additionally, if any textual changes are made to the bill during this process, we will be sure to provide updates.

Article by Zachary Zuk