As the digital universe both seeks artificial intelligence solutions and aims to protect against them, Gov. Wes Moore signed an executive order declaring Maryland will move forward with prudence but also won’t be left behind.

With the stroke of his pen, the Democrat set guiding principles, values and accountability for the state as the Department of Information Technology and other agencies begin to explore the relationships between advanced technologies and the public domain.

Under the order, a sub cabinet of state agencies will create an action plan, exploring how AI can incrementally and ethically be used in state government operations, including how AI can improve critical sectors of state government, such as workforce development and economic development, and protecting residents and state infrastructure from the risks of AI.

Moore’s administration rolled out the executive order and three other initiatives aiming to improve constituents’ digital experiences across state platforms, enhance accessibility for users and create a cybersecurity task force.

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“Today, the state of Maryland is getting a software update,” the Democrat said, after Information Technology Secretary Katie Olson Savage unveiled the plan at the Maryland State House Monday.

During his first year in office the governor said he learned that his plans to rebuild state government require reinforcement; “We actually need to modernize state government.”

“How can we win the next decade, if the tools that we have to win the decade are the tools for the last decade?” he asked.

Moore addressed what he called “the elephant in the room” — the natural hesitation of some when they hear “AI” and “cyber” — and said he understood their concerns.

“This technology is already here,” he said. “The only question is whether we are going to be reactive or proactive.”

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Moore thanked Savage for leading the initiatives and said crafting the plans was a “team effort” between multiple state agencies and lawmakers.

He said he looks forward to working with the General Assembly on AI-related legislation going forward but did not offer specifics. Savage said the proposals made Monday would not require legislation and that the executive order and policy alterations would suffice.

Savage said the four initiatives “reinforce” each other and “to make Maryland more competitive through modernization while ensuring our technology is secure and accessible.”

But the executive order is just the starting line of Maryland’s AI journey, she said, “and we must ensure that our approach to this set of technologies is responsible and productive and cohesive across all our agencies.”

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In addition to the executive order, Savage announced the creation of the Maryland Digital Service, a team responsible for enhancing the user experience across hundreds of state websites and apps and executing the state’s first digital accessibility policy.

The accessibility policy applies to the executive branch, all state agencies and associated third-party tech vendors, and will “ensure that all Marylanders have equal access to digital services and content regardless of their abilities.”

A partnership between three state agencies, in coordination with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, will form the Maryland Cybersecurity Task Force, tapping into cyber expertise within the Maryland National Guard.

The Department of Information Technology, Department of Emergency Management, and the Maryland Military Department will join forces to respond to cyber attacks, patch system vulnerabilities and add staff.

Savage said the budget for the initiatives already exists and whenever possible she’ll hire state workers to perform the work ahead.

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Sen. Katie Fry Hester, who has chaired the Joint Committee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology and Biotechnology for the last five years, plans to propose cyber- and AI-related legislation that tackles the responsible use and consistent monitoring of AI in state government.

If the state doesn’t address this issue head on, Maryland will be left behind, she said.

“The risk to not using AI is the opportunity cost,” she said, including losing the ability to protect state infrastructure from cyber threats.

Hester said the state should look for ethical uses of AI to make government services run better, but only after ensuring they also protect personal data and shield citizens from bias created by algorithms.

“We want to be doing this in a safe sandbox,” she said.

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She said the legislature has discussed IT modernization, cyber security and AI for some time and expects to have more discussions with administration.

“I really agree with the direction and the tone of the executive order,” the Democrat representing Howard and Montgomery counties said. “We need to lead in this area.”

Brenda Wintrode covers state government, agencies and politics. Before joining The Baltimore Banner, Wintrode wrote an award winning series of long form investigations for Wisconsin Watch. 

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