U.S. Justice Department Hires First Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer

Jonathan Mayer has been tapped to serve as the Justice Department’s first chief artificial intelligence officer.
Jonathan Mayer has been tapped to serve as the Justice Department’s first chief artificial intelligence officer.

Summary

Jonathan Mayer is a Princeton academic and former technology adviser to then-Senator Kamala Harris.

The U.S. Justice Department has named a Princeton University academic as its first chief artificial intelligence officer and chief science and technology adviser.

Jonathan Mayer, a computer scientist and lawyer, will serve as one of the primary policy advisers to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Justice Department leadership on issues that require technical expertise, particularly those related to artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and other areas of emerging technology. He will also lead the department’s technological capacity-building efforts, such as advising on technical talent recruitment and helping to advise on issues related to emerging technologies, both across the department and with other federal agencies.

The creation of an AI chief at the Justice Department comes as advances in artificial intelligence have given rise to new legal and safety questions and as more governments look to rein in the disruptive yet rapidly growing technology. President Biden late last year issued a new executive order aiming to assert more oversight over powerful new AI systems.

Mayer, currently an assistant professor in Princeton’s computer science department and at the university’s School of Public and International Affairs, has worked in similar technology policy advising roles, including at the California Department of Justice and in Vice President Kamala Harris’s office between 2017 and 2018, when she served as a U.S. senator.

Mayer also served as the chief technologist in the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau for about a year, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mayer researches “the intersection of technology and law, with emphasis on national security, criminal procedure, consumer privacy, network management and online speech," according to his website. He holds a doctoral degree in computer science and a law degree from Stanford University.

Mayer started in his new role at the end of January and has committed to serve in the position for at least 12 months, according to Princeton. He plans to return to Princeton after his term at the Justice Department ends.

President Biden in October invoked emergency federal powers in a new executive order to compel major AI companies to notify the government when developing any system that poses a “serious risk to national security, national economic security or national public health and safety," The Wall Street Journal reported at the time.

Garland said Mayer’s appointment as the chief AI officer is intended to equip the Justice Department to carry out its mission with evolving scientific and technological developments.

“Jonathan’s expertise will be invaluable in ensuring that the entire Justice Department—including our law enforcement components, litigating components, grantmaking entities and U.S. Attorneys’ offices—is prepared for both the challenges and opportunities that new technologies present," Garland said in a statement Thursday.

Mayer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The appointment comes as regulators and technology companies grapple with the ramifications of an explosion in the development and use of artificial-intelligence technology. Google on Thursday suspended the ability to generate images of people in its flagship chatbot following an online backlash around the tool’s treatment of race and ethnicity.

Last month, social-media platform X blocked searches about Taylor Swift for several days after explicit, digitally fabricated fakes of the singer began proliferating on the site, in another episode that renewed concerns around the generation of deepfake images.

Write to Mengqi Sun at mengqi.sun@wsj.com

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