'Trust in technology': Utah creates Office of Artificial Intelligence to safely, smartly navigate AI rise

Posed photo of an iPhone with AI screen displaying in Salt Lake City on March 19. The Utah Department of Commerce on Monday launched its Office of Artificial Intelligence.

Posed photo of an iPhone with AI screen displaying in Salt Lake City on March 19. The Utah Department of Commerce on Monday launched its Office of Artificial Intelligence. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — What happens when a new technology enters the mainstream that will likely evolve faster than humans can adapt?

That was the question Gov. Spencer Cox said Utah leaders asked as they began discussing how the state should navigate the rise of artificial intelligence.

To begin answering that question, the Utah Department of Commerce on Monday officially launched its Office of Artificial Intelligence.

The office, created during the 2024 legislative session through the passing of SB149 and led by Brigham Young University faculty member Zachary Boyd, will consult with businesses, academic institutions and other stakeholders to facilitate dialogue on potential regulatory proposals related to AI.

"What we have done, collectively, is to come up with a new model, I think, that's unique in governance anywhere in the country and maybe anywhere in the world, where we hired experts to be in this space," Cox said. "It's not just government versus the innovators. It's government working with the innovators, giving you a space and confidence to come in and show what you can do and prove what you can do and give them the space to do that. And then work together — work collaboratively — on the very regulations that will protect the marketplace and protect our citizens."

Cox added that the office will give recommendations to the Legislature leading up to the annual legislative sessions and for special sessions, if the need arises.

Margaret Busse, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce, said that as Utah leaders began conversations around an AI policy, they identified three core objectives: Foster innovation, protect the public, and observe and learn.

"The two main functions of this new office are to offer regulatory relief where we can to help innovation and to study policy areas and make recommendations to the Legislature through a learning lab approach," Busse said.

The learning lab, Boyd explained, will see the office picking key issues around AI that merit "sustained scrutiny" by the state and bring together academics, business leaders and advocates for the public to brainstorm and come up with policy proposals.

The office will also have something called "regulatory mitigation authority."

"Regulatory mitigation authority means that if a company or an individual wants to do something innovative in the state of Utah, and it may be illegal because of laws that were written 50 years ago or just regulatorally unclear, we have authority to work with the regulators and come up with an arrangement for the temporary deployment of these new activities, new applications of AI in a way that will allow the state to gather preliminary data so that at the end of the trial period, we'll be able to actually make smart, permanent policy for these new applications of AI," Boyd said.

The first undertaking of the learning lab will be studying the use of generative AI in mental health services, identifying guardrails that need to be in place when people are sharing intimate, private data with AI chatbots and a litany of other points of consideration.

"We know there's a ton of demand that is not being met right now. So if we get this right — how (generative AI) can be used in mental health care — we can really benefit Utahns," Busse said.

"The idea of this office is to be agile, constantly learning, figuring out what is the right issue to tackle now," she added. "Our goal is to create more trust in technology. We want to be able to leverage all the amazing benefits from it in the years to come, and we want to be able to do it safely."

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Logan Stefanich is a reporter with KSL.com, covering southern Utah communities, education, business and tech news.

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