NIST launches a new platform to assess generative AI

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S. Commerce Department agency that develops and tests tech for the U.S. government, companies and the broader public, on Monday announced the launch of NIST GenAI, a new program spearheaded by NIST to assess generative AI technologies including text- and image-generating AI.

NIST GenAI will release benchmarks, help create "content authenticity" detection (i.e. deepfake-checking) systems and encourage the development of software to spot the source of fake or misleading AI-generated information, explains NIST on the newly launched NIST GenAI website and in a press release.

"The NIST GenAI program will issue a series of challenge problems [intended] to evaluate and measure the capabilities and limitations of generative AI technologies," the press release reads. "These evaluations will be used to identify strategies to promote information integrity and guide the safe and responsible use of digital content."

NIST GenAI's first project is a pilot study to build systems that can reliably tell the difference between human-created and AI-generated media, starting with text. (While many services purport to detect deepfakes, studies and our own testing have shown them to be shaky at best, particularly when it comes to text.) NIST GenAI is inviting teams from academia, industry and research labs to submit either "generators" — AI systems to generate content — or "discriminators," which are systems designed to identify AI-generated content.

Generators in the study must generate 250-words-or-fewer summaries provided a topic and a set of documents, while discriminators must detect whether a given summary is potentially AI-written. To ensure fairness, NIST GenAI will provide the data necessary to test the generators. Systems trained on publicly available data and that don't "[comply] with applicable laws and regulations" won't be accepted," NIST says.

Registration for the pilot will begin May 1, with the first round of two scheduled to close August 2. Final results from the study are expected to be published in February 2025.

NIST GenAI's launch and deepfake-focused study comes as the volume of AI-generated misinformation and disinformation info grows exponentially.

According to data from Clarity, a deepfake detection firm, 900% more deepfakes have been created and published this year compared to the same time frame last year. It's causing alarm, understandably. A recent poll from YouGov found that 85% of Americans were concerned about misleading deepfakes spreading online.

The launch of NIST GenAI is a part of NIST's response to President Joe Biden's executive order on AI, which laid out rules requiring greater transparency from AI companies about how their models work and established a raft of new standards, including for labeling content generated by AI.

It's also the first AI-related announcement from NIST after the appointment of Paul Christiano, a former OpenAI researcher, to the agency's AI Safety Institute.

Christiano was a controversial choice for his "doomerist" views; he once predicted that "there's a 50% chance AI development could end in [humanity's destruction]." Critics, reportedly including scientists within NIST, fear that Cristiano may encourage the AI Safety Institute to focus on "fantasy scenarios" rather than realistic, more immediate risks from AI.

NIST says that NIST GenAI will inform the AI Safety Institute's work.