NTIA explores the benefits and risks of open-weight AI models

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A new request for information issued by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will inform regulatory policy on open-weight models.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is seeking public comment about the pros and cons of "open-weight" artificial intelligence systems to help guide policy. These machine learning models are characterized by leveraging weighted values that together create a series of algorithms called neural networks.  

Open-weight models function as pre-made molds that developers can build upon, which has both benefits and drawbacks. Open-weight models can democratize access to advanced AI models for smaller developers and users, but could negatively augment the capabilities of future AI models depending on the user’s input. 

The NTIA’s request for comment seeks to understand how to best navigate these open models. 

“Open-weight AI models raise important questions around safety challenges, and opportunities for competition and innovation,” Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA administrator, said. “These models can help unleash innovation across communities by making powerful tools accessible, but that same accessibility also poses serious risks. Our Request for Comment will help us chart a policy path to promote both safety and innovation in this important technology.”

NTIA wants feedback on the risks and benefits of making model weights widely accessible versus closing access; how they impact other issues surrounding AI systems at a national security and trustworthiness level; and the role the federal government should play in regulating AI model weights. 

The open-weight proceeding was called for in President Joe Biden's executive order on AI, which encouraged tempering AI innovation with a strong ethical, human-centric approach to design and deployment. 

Democratizing emerging technologies like AI has been another Biden administration agenda item, with the recent launch of the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource pilot spotlighting the need for transparent and accessible technology development. 

"History has also shown that closed systems can undermine experimentation and prevent technological advances," Davidson said in a speech last December. "And we know that technology’s benefits can be distributed more widely when access to that technology is democratized."