State leaders don't want to get 'behind the ball' on artificial intelligence

Former Gov. Michael Leavitt speaks as Utah policy experts gather for discussions at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday.

Former Gov. Michael Leavitt speaks as Utah policy experts gather for discussions at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — It's been more than two decades since former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt stepped down to serve in President George W. Bush's administration in 2003. A lot has changed since then, but the former Republican governor sees Utah facing similar challenges as those he saw while in office.

When Leavitt took office in 1993, the state was responding to accelerating population growth. Today, the state is preparing for an estimated increase of 2.2 million people through 2060.

Utah in the 1990s was preparing to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and a chance to host again in 2030 or 2034 is on the horizon.

Finally, Leavitt's administration encompassed the transition to the "internet world," when the accessibility to the World Wide Web began to change just about every aspect of daily life. A similar transformation may now be underway across the world, as artificial intelligence promises to reshape how Americans — and Utahns — work, create and interact.

"What struck me is that virtually every part of what we worked on so hard during that period of time is happening again," Leavitt said Monday, reflecting on his administration during a forum hosted by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and Deseret News. "The similarities in what we experienced and what we're experiencing are dramatic, and they're worth paying attention to."

Utah's AI 'Innovation Lab'

Just as Leavitt and other state leaders tried to prepare the state for the advent of the internet age, state lawmakers today are seeking to capitalize on the promises of artificial intelligence while mitigating some of the potential risks. While the internet has ushered in previously unimaginable ways to improve efficiency at work, school and play, it's not without its drawbacks — which some lawmakers admit governments have been to slow to address.

Government was designed to move slowly and deliberately, but the challenge for policymakers today is to stay on top of the potential risks posed by new technologies, according to state Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy.

"Government is always reactive to the private sector in technology and innovation ... and that's actually a good thing," Cullimore said during Monday's forum. But, he admitted, "We got behind the ball on (online) privacy, got behind the ball on social media, and it's a problem in our society now. So, how can we as government not stifle innovation, encourage innovation and embrace technology while setting up proper regulation to ensure that it doesn't house the same problems that we're seeing now with social media and in our data."

Cullimore is one of the lawmakers who has focused a lot on social media over the past couple of years and was involved with crafting the state's regulations designed to protect teenagers from the harms alleged to be caused by its use. This year, he was the chief sponsor of the Artificial Intelligence Policy Act, which he said is designed to foster innovation in artificial intelligence while creating a regulatory framework to help the state government stay current on the risks and challenges posed by the rapidly evolving technology.

His bill, which was signed into law last week, creates a state Office of Artificial Intelligence Policy and an Artificial Intelligence Learning Laboratory, where companies developing generative artificial intelligence can "link arms" with the government to help assess the risks associated with the technology.

Clint Betts, a co-founder of Silicon Slopes, acknowledged that the future of the technology is "scary" and "unknown," but said it has a great deal of potential for positive improvement.

"I'm not sure we know what AI looks like a year from now," he said. "And while it's scary, it's also exciting and there's incredible opportunity. If you look at the history of the world, technology has always been a benefit when new technologies evolve, and I expect that same thing with AI.

Leavitt releases memoir focused on time in office

Leavitt has long been looking back at his time as governor, and on Monday published the first four volumes of his memoir online, with a fifth volume focusing on his time working for Bush to be released next year.

During the forum, he focused on the third volume, "A Sacred Trust," which details several accomplishments from his administration. The volume begins with a personal anecdote about his daughter, Anne Marie, and a grandfather clock in the governor's mansion.

"Soon after we moved in, a repairman came to fix the clock," Leavitt writes. "He took the time to explain to our daughter ... how a labyrinth of gears, ranging from small ones the size of a dime to large ones the breadth of a bike sprocket, moved the hands of the clock."

When asked to try moving one of the small gears with her fingers, Anne Marie was unable to. The repairman told her to try turning the big gear, which to her excitement caused all of the smaller gears to turn as well.

"I realized that if you're going to do public policy that spins all the gears, you have to identify and move the big gears," Leavitt said.

Related stories

Most recent Politics stories

Related topics

PoliticsUtahSalt Lake CountyBusiness
Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast