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Cybersecurity / Data / Federal government / Software

This Philly firm is helping shape federal AI policy through Meta’s Open Loop program

Zaviant was originally an observer, but then was invited to fully participate. It’s a role the company relishes.

AI is infiltrating every part of our lives — even making coffee, as seen in this product debuting at CES 2024. (Imagic Digital/Mark Heninger)
A Philadelphia data security and privacy consulting firm now has a small say in federal AI policy.

Keyed in through its participation in Open Loop, Center City-based Zaviant says it’s also bringing these best practices to its clients.

Open Loop is a consortium of tech companies organized in 2021 by Meta to discuss best practices and provide feedback about artificial intelligence. It’s part of a research program testing the AI Risk Management Framework 1.0 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Zaviant was initially an observer of the consortium, but at the end of last year, was asked to participate as a supporting company, founder and managing partner Will Sweeney said. Since then, the company has been participating in biweekly meetings to discuss the concerns associated with AI and how they can mitigate risks.

“How do we create that channel where we can provide that feedback to policymakers, and [where] technologists can actually have a voice in the conversation,” Sweeney said.

The Biden administration last October issued an executive order to set standards for AI safety and security. NIST also recently launched a consortium to develop AI safety standards.

Since AI is constantly changing, Sweeney said, the idea of Open Loop is to create a system to constantly provide feedback based on new concerns and risks that come up, he said. Since joining the consortium, Sweeney has discussed red teaming (simulating an attack on a system), identifying when AI algorithms aren’t doing what they’re intended to do, data provenance and bias and discrimination in algorithms.

“It’s really important to kind of flesh those out and get a better understanding of what are some of the impacts that these tools can have,” he said. “And how are we making sure that the outcomes are what we expect them to be.”

It is unique to be part of the conversations around AI standards at the early stages, he said. Zaviant helps companies assess its data security and privacy programs and helps them improve their systems to meet industry standards.

The company is hearing questions from its clients about the dangers and opportunities AI offers — specifically, how AI can help them in human resources, finance and accounting. Open Loop participation offers an opportunity to bring Zaviant’s clients the most up to date recommendations, such as regular structured testing to identify flaws and vulnerabilities in AI systems.

At a local level, technologists are talking about AI policy, but Sweeney wishes there were more conversations about it in Philadelphia and more understanding about the benefits and risks to the technology.

In 2023, the city saw 80 AI and machine learning venture capital deals valuing $368.3 million, according to PACT’s 2023 venture report.

“I would really like to see the awareness level rising,” Sweeney said, “and I think it has some real economic opportunity for the city.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Meta
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