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US agency to hire 50 AI experts to crack down on drugs, child abuse

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By Alexandra Alper

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to hire 50 artificial intelligence experts this year to help it halt child abuse, counter fentanyl production and assess damage from natural disasters, as it seeks to increase use of the burgeoning technology.

The agency, tasked with securing U.S. borders, announced the hiring effort at an event in Mountain View, California, headlined by Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer Eric Hysen.

“Government needs the support and expertise of our country’s foremost AI experts to help ensure our continued ability to harness this technology responsibly, safeguard against its malicious use, and advance our critical homeland security mission,” Mayorkas said in a statement.

The agency did not provide specifics on what the experts will do, but noted that they would provide expertise in cybersecurity, data science and software engineering.

The plan is part of the Biden administration’s nascent efforts to harness the potential benefits of AI while reining in the biggest threats it poses, where Europe has made much more significant progress.

Generative AI, which can create text, photos and videos in response to open-ended prompts, in recent months has spurred excitement as well as fears it could make some jobs obsolete and upend elections by making it difficult to distinguish between fact and false information.

Officials on Tuesday highlighted ways that AI is already helping the DHS crack down on illegal drug imports by using a machine learning model to identify suspicious patterns in vehicles crossing the border, which has led to 240 drug seizures.

The agency is also already using a machine learning model to enhance older images, allowing it to identify 300 previously unknown victims of sexual exploitation as well as some perpetrators. And AI is helping the department’s Federal Emergency Management Agency more efficiently assess damage to homes and buildings after a natural disaster.

“Now is the time for tech experts to make a real difference for our country and join the federal government,” said Hysen.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper in WashingtonEditing by Anna Driver and Matthew Lewis)

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