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US-bound Harkness Fellow To Explore AI Policy Development

As Aotearoa develops its approach to adopting and using artificial intelligence, a senior government official will visit key centres of AI policy expertise in Washington D.C. as the 2024 New Zealand Harkness Fellow.

Harkness Fellow - Sarah Box / SUPPLIED

Sarah Box, Principal Policy Advisor – Digital Policy at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, beat out an impressive field of candidates to claim the prestigious New Zealand Harkness Fellowship for 2024.

As a senior member of MBIE’s Digital Policy team, Box has worked on significant areas of policy, including the development of the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa, and the Game Development Sector Rebate scheme.

Her current focus is working with policy and operational staff across 30+ government agencies to consider the opportunities and challenges posed by the rapid adoption of artificial intelligence, and to help formulate policy to guide its use in New Zealand.

With many of the rapid-paced developments in AI currently driven by US companies and institutions, the US Government has shifted into high gear in its efforts to ensure the technology is a force for good.

President Biden’s Executive Order on AI included policy initiatives such as the development of an internationally recognised AI Risk Management Framework and the establishment of the US AI Safety Institute to develop guidelines and undertake research to foster AI safety. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) developed the US Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, runs the National AI Initiative Office, and is contributing to the Executive Order.

Learning from top US AI policy experts

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Box will be hosted during her fellowship by the Washington D.C.-based Observer Research Foundation America, an independent non-profit that examines the implications of emerging technologies for areas of policy.

Her research will also see her spend time with experts in US government agencies, standards bodies, and research institutions to gain insights into approaches to AI-related policy development that could inform our own efforts to foster responsible use of AI.

“The US is a leader in AI policy and champions a pro-innovation, risk-based approach that aligns with our need to harness technologies like AI to underpin growth and economic resilience,” says Box, who also works closely with the Department of Internal Affairs on the country’s approach to “digitising government”.

The New Zealand Government has established an Algorithm Charter governing use of artificial intelligence systems by government agencies and last year issued guidance on the use of generative AI systems such as ChatGPT and Google Gemini.

MBIE is now leading the development of an AI Roadmap to support the adoption of AI across the economy as well as risk management-based guidance for business, with Box’s US visit well-timed to observe the latest developments.

Informing AI policy development in Aotearoa

“The aim in undertaking this fellowship is to gain knowledge that can directly feed the government’s policy work on AI, which seeks to support New Zealand’s economic performance, mitigate harms, and align with key international partners,” says Box.

Harkness Fellowships Trust Chair Aphra Green said the focus on emerging technologies this year, following previous fellows’ work on social and environmental issues in recent years, shows the breadth of important topics Fellows are supported to explore in the US.

“Sarah’s research project is perfectly timed to have input into an issue that is under active consideration both within New Zealand and internationally,” she says.

Sarah Box will depart for the US in September and share lessons from the project with the New Zealand policy community following her return.

Acting Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commissioner and Harkess Fellowships Trust Board member Heather Baggott, says the growing awareness of the Harkness fellowships across government has caught the attention of executive leaders working on issues integral to the country’s future.

“The Leadership Development Centre based within the Public Service Commission promotes the Harkness Fellowships as one of the best opportunities for executive leaders in the Public Sector to pursue US-based research in policy-related areas of relevance to their work.

“We are delighted to see Sarah selected as the 2024 Fellow and are looking forward to both supporting her through the fellowship and learning about the insights she gleans from the experience.”

About the Harkness Fellowships Trust

The New Zealand Harkness Fellowships were established in 2009 by the New Zealand Harkness Fellowships Trust Board to reinforce links between New Zealand and the US and to enable executive leaders in the Public Sector to benefit from study and travel in the US. The Fellowships are valued at up to $70,000, and offer an emerging leader in the public sector the opportunity to spend 3-6 months undertaking research in the United States.

The fellowships enable successful candidates to gain first-hand knowledge and build contacts in their chosen field of endeavour that will be highly relevant to the NZ context and future NZ/US links. The Trust Board works to administer the fellowships in partnership with the Leadership Development Centre, which is acting on behalf of the NZ Government.

The current fellowships continue a Harkness fellowship programme that stretches back over sixty years. Past fellows include scientist Professor Sir Richard Faull, former Director General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi, businessman Sir Hugh Fletcher and Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes.



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