Justice Department taps former Kamala Harris adviser as 1st-ever artificial intelligence officer

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The Justice Department named its first-ever official focused on artificial intelligence (AI) on Thursday in anticipation of the rapidly evolving technology’s impact on the criminal justice system. 

Jonathan Mayer, a professor at Princeton University who focuses on the “intersection of technology and law, with emphasis on national security, criminal procedure, consumer privacy, network management, and online speech,” according to his online biography, was selected to serve as the DOJ’s chief science and technology adviser and chief AI officer, Reuters reported. 

“The Justice Department must keep pace with rapidly evolving scientific and technological developments in order to fulfill our mission to uphold the rule of law, keep our country safe and protect civil rights,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

Mayer previously served as the technology adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris during her time as a U.S. senator, and as the Chief Technologist of the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau. In his new role, he is expected to advise Garland and DOJ leadership on matters related to emerging technologies, including how to responsibly integrate AI into the department’s investigations and criminal prosecutions, according to Reuters. 

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a press conference during the UK Artificial Intelligence Safety Summit at Bletchley Park, England, on Nov. 2, 2023. (DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Mayer is set to lead a newly formed board of law enforcement and civil rights officials that will advise Garland and others at the Justice Department on the ethics and efficacy of AI systems, according to Reuters. He will also seek to recruit more technological experts to the department.

U.S. officials have been weighing how to best balance benefiting from AI, while also minimizing the dangers of the loosely regulated and rapidly expanding technology. 

During a speech at Oxford University in the United Kingdom last week, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the Justice Department has already deployed AI to classify and trace the source of opioids and other drugs, to help “triage and understand the more than one million tips submitted to the FBI by the public every year,” and “to synthesize huge volumes of evidence collected in some of our most significant cases, including January 6.” 

“Every new technology is a double-edged sword, but AI may be the sharpest blade yet. It has the potential to be an indispensable tool to help identify, disrupt, and deter criminals, terrorists, and hostile nation-states from doing us harm,” Monaco said. 

Lisa Monaco seated next to Garland during a DC crime presser

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco speaks during an event where Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed DOJ efforts to combat violent crime in many cities during the previous year on Jan. 5, 2024 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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“Yet for all the promise it offers,” she continued. “AI is also accelerating risks to our collective security. We know it has the potential to amplify existing biases and discriminatory practices. It can expedite the creation of harmful content, including child sexual abuse material. It can arm nation-states with tools to pursue digital authoritarianism, accelerating the spread of disinformation and repression. And we’ve already seen that AI can lower the barriers to entry for criminals and embolden our adversaries. It’s changing how crimes are committed and who commits them — creating new opportunities for wanna-be hackers and supercharging the threat posed by the most sophisticated cybercriminals.”

Monaco highlighted the potential risk to election security posed by AI, saying how foreign adversaries could radicalize users on social media with incendiary content created with generative AI, misinform voters by impersonating trusted sources and spreading deepfakes, and spread falsehoods using chatbots, fake images and even cloned voices. 

Garland speaks about violent crime in DC

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks regarding ongoing efforts by the Department of Justice to combat violent crime on Jan. 5, 2024. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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“This year, over half the world’s population – more than four billion people – will have the chance to vote in an election. That includes some of the world’s largest democracies – from the United States to Indonesia and India, from Brazil to here in Britain,” Monaco said. “We’ve already seen the misuse of AI play out in elections from Chicago and New Hampshire to Slovakia. And I fear it’s just the start. Left without guardrails, AI poses immense challenges for democracies around the world. So, we’re at an inflection point with AI. We have to move quickly to identify, leverage, and govern its positive uses while taking measures to minimize its risks.” 

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