San Jose sets workplace guardrails for using AI
The 18th floor of San Jose City Hall. The city has released its first set of government workplace guidelines for generative AI, a technology that has the able to generate text, images and other media in response to prompts. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    As more people integrate artificial intelligence into their everyday lives—from students using ChatGPT for homework to adults using AI for art—San Jose leaders are adapting it into their daily work.

    The city released its first set of employee guidelines on Monday for generative AI, a technology that has the ability to generate text, images and other media in response to prompts. One of these forms is ChatGPT, and the city wants to make sure this futuristic technology is applied carefully and responsibly.

    Using AI can help employees with their ability to respond and work more efficiently, which allows them to engage more fully with residents. But the greater concern is the issue of reliability, privacy and government transparency, city officials said.

    The move to adopt guidelines in San Jose comes after a 2023 report by the Brookings Institution, a D.C. based think tank, released last week showed San Jose and the Bay Area have become the nationwide hub for the AI industry.

    “Generative AI, it’s here, it’s available to everyone,” Albert Gehami, digital privacy officer for the city, told San José Spotlight. “People are using it for all sorts of things. We wanted to get ahead of the game, we didn’t want to ignore it.”

    Gehami said a key point in the city’s 23 pages of guidelines is employees should know that when a prompt is entered on an AI system, it will be subject to the Public Records Act—meaning the public could request to see what prompt was used. He said another point is these systems are prone to mistakes, and all work done using AI should still be fact-checked. The guidelines further state employees should cite when they use AI apps in their work.

    Gehami emphasized the use of generative AI will not fundamentally change how the city functions.

    The guidelines are a first draft and can evolve, he said. This initial release gives residents an opportunity to learn how the city’s administration is staying ahead of this emerging technology, he added. The hope of this slow rollout of guidelines is that the public will engage with city leaders on this topic to assist with future protocols.

    “Ignoring it isn’t really an option when it’s so pervasive,” Gehami said. “That’s why we wanted to release these (guidelines)—to be a part of that conversation and really start thinking (and) being thoughtful about how this should be used for the city and how this can help us.”

    Rob Lloyd, deputy city manager, echoed Gehami and said the guidelines will help the city use the technology more responsibly.

    “(The guidelines) give us is a starting point… to set some early sideboards because the fact of the matter is this can create harm when you’re not careful,” Lloyd told San José Spotlight.

    Across the country, there have been mixed responses over whether to adopt the new technology in the workplace. Seattle created an advisory team to present recommendations to the chief technology officer on generative AI policy. But in other places like Maine, the state executive branch has banned the use of the tech altogether. Even the Los Angeles Unified School District previously put a temporary ban on ChatGPT in December.

    On the national scale, lawmakers have debated the use of AI. Silicon Valley Congressmember Ro Khanna filed the first bill that used ChatGPT in July.

    In June, members of the Senate asked the Government Accountability Office to dive into possible harms as a result of using these tools and inquired about strategies to curb potential harms.

    Stephen Wu, a shareholder and attorney for the Silicon Valley Law Group and chair of the American Bar Association’s Artificial Intelligence & Robotics National Institute, said San Jose is being forward-thinking by proactively setting guidelines. He said the guidelines help partially protect against issues of reliability with artificial intelligence.

    “It’s the wave of the future,” Wu told San José Spotlight. “It is something that’s going to be a commonly used tool going forward. So yes, I do believe that the city should use it… The community should be entitled to know that the city is trying to follow all of these principles when using generative AI in doing the people’s business.”

    Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.

    Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

    Leave a Reply