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City of Seattle Releases Generative Artificial Intelligence Policy Defining Responsible Use for City Employees

Seattle – Today, the City of Seattle released its Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) Policy to balance the opportunities created by this innovative technology with strong guardrails to ensure it is used responsibly and accountably. The new policy aligns with President Biden’s Executive Order regarding AI announced earlier this week, and positions Seattle to continue to be a national leader in civic innovation and technology.

President Biden’s Executive Order focuses on new standards for AI developers to prioritize safety and security, protect Americans’ privacy, advance equity, protecting workers, and more. Seattle Deputy Mayor Greg Wong was in Washington D.C. for the announcement to support these new guidelines.

“Innovation is in Seattle’s DNA, and I see immense opportunity for our region to be an AI powerhouse thanks to our world-leading technology companies and research universities. Now is the time to ensure this new tool is used for good, creating new opportunities and efficiencies rather than reinforcing existing biases or inequities,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “As a city, we have a responsibility to both embrace new technology that can improve our service while keeping a close eye on what matters – our communities and their data and privacy. This policy is the outcome of our One Seattle approach to cross-sector collaboration and will help guide our use of this new technology for years to come.”

The City’s policy was developed after a six-month working period with the Generative AI Advisory Team and City employees. The policy, written by Seattle’s Interim Chief Technology Officer Jim Loter, based on the group’s work, takes a principle-based approach to governing the use of Generative AI, which will allow greater flexibility as technology evolves while ensuring it aligns with the City’s responsibility to serve residents.

The seven governing principles are:

  1. Innovation and Sustainability  
  2. Transparency and Accountability
  3. Validity and Reliability
  4. Bias and Harm Reduction and Fairness
  5. Privacy Enhancing
  6. Explainability and Interpretability
  7. Security and Resiliency

The City’s new AI policy touches on many aspects of generative AI. It highlights several key factors to responsible use in a municipality, including attributing AI-generated work, having an employee review all AI work before going live, and limiting the use of personal information to help build the materials AI uses to develop its product. The policy also stipulates any work with a third-party vendor or tool must also include these principles for AI. This will help novel risks that have the potential to adversely affect the City’s ability to fulfill its legal commitments and obligations about how we use and manage data and information.

City employees using AI technology will be held accountable for compliance with these commitments. All use of AI technology must go through the same technology reviews as any other new technologies. Those reviews take an in-depth look at privacy, compliance, and security, among others.

“I’m proud of the way the City of Seattle has responded thoroughly to the development of this policy,” said Seattle’s Interim Chief Technology Officer Jim Loter. “Technology is always changing. Our responses to these changes prove we are open to embracing new ways of providing services to our communities, while also mindful of the data we need to protect. I know this is an evolving topic, and I look forward to continuing this work and these conversations with experts in the field who also happen to live in our community and benefit from our services as a City. It truly emphasizes the meaning of One Seattle.”

The City policy applies to generative AI, which is a special type of AI technology. Generative AI produces new content for user requests and prompts by learning from large amounts of data called a “large language model.” The capability to create new content, and to continually learn from these large data models makes it possible for a computerized system to produce content that looks and sounds like it was done by a human. While AI, including generative AI, has the potential to enhance human work across many fields of human enterprise, its use has also raised many questions about the consequences of employing smart systems. Among these are ethics, safety, accuracy, bias, and attribution for human work used to inform AI system models. 

The Generative AI Policy Advisory Team included technology industry leaders from the University of Washington, the Allen Institute for AI, and members of the City’s Community Technology Advisory Board (CTAB). Seattle Information Technology employees provided input as well.

What members of the Generative AI Advisory Team had to say about this work and policy development:

Nicole DeCario, Director, AI & Society, and Jacob Morrison, Predoctoral Researcher, and Public Policy Lead, Allen Institute for AI and Generative Artificial Intelligence Advisory Board members

“The City of Seattle is taking a values-driven approach to creating their generative AI policy, carefully weighing the benefits and harms this technology brings. We are grateful to support this work and commend the City on its leadership in prioritizing the responsible use of AI. We hope the City’s policies can provide a blueprint for other municipalities around the country as it becomes increasingly common to interact with AI systems in our daily lives.”

CTAB member Omari Stringer

“As a CTAB member and resident of Seattle, I am happy to see the City of Seattle taking steps to ensure the responsible use of innovative technologies such as Generative AI. Although the pace of innovation often exceeds the pace of policy, it is important to engage with stakeholders early to set a strong foundation for future use cases. While I believe we should tread carefully in this new domain, especially with the importance of the work the City carries out, there are certainly many opportunities for AI to enhance the delivery of services to the public. I appreciate the unique opportunity to provide my voice and expertise to help bridge the gap between innovation and ethics.”