Washington struggles to catch up with artificial intelligence

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As industry experts and academics sound alarm bells, Washington has quickly turned its attention to artificial intelligence. But there’s hardly a coordinated approach when it comes to regulating fast-moving technology.

President Joe Biden’s administration has launched a series of executive actions to study the technology, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., is working with experts and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive legislative framework to regulate AI. With no clear game plan to address the issue, various committees on Capitol Hill are holding their own public hearings and private meetings to try to address AI capabilities found within their jurisdictions.

“The reality is that the development of AI is going at the speed of light and none of us can keep up,” Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., a member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said in an interview. .

“I think it is important for us, together, to talk about what are the values ​​that we hope to enhance, preserve and protect with AI,” he said, “but we are a long way from having a coordinated approach.”

This week, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, one of the country’s leading voices in artificial intelligence, will address members of Congress as they try to catch up. Altman will speak to House Republicans and Democrats during a dinner hosted by GOP conference vice chair Mike Johnson of Louisiana and Democratic caucus vice chair Ted Lieu of California on Monday night. Then on Tuesday Altman testify on AI for the first time on Capitol Hill, appearing before a judiciary subcommittee on privacy and technology led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

Many tech leaders have called for some form of regulation or guidelines for the AI ​​industry, though few have offered detailed policy proposals. In March, thousands of tech leaders and academics signed an open letter calling on companies to halt new experiments with giant AI models for at least six months, with some doomsday warnings, though there is no indication that any of the Major companies in the field plan to do so. do it

Rather than propose sweeping AI legislation that could take years to enact, the Biden administration is using its existing authority to try to shape AI technologies and ensure they are developed and used responsibly.

This month, on the same day that Vice President Kamala Harris met with Altman and other AI leaders, the White House announced a series of executive actions, including a $140 million investment to launch seven new AI research facilities and new guidelines for AI for federal agencies.

Last fall, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a “AI Bill of Rights” — A roadmap for tech companies and other entities as they build and deploy powerful and potentially dangerous AI tools. The plan is not binding, but administration officials argue that the onus falls on companies, and the AI ​​industry more generally, to ensure their products are safe and secure.

Several agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, have said they are looking for automated systems that could unlawfully discriminate, such as algorithms that could deny a person housing based on their race. The Federal Trade Commission has threatened to investigate companies that exaggerate their use of AI for potential false advertising.

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, on July 6, 2022 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on July 6, 2022 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Even some lawmakers aggressively pushing for new AI legislation see advantage in Biden taking executive action to try to influence the rapid development of AI tools, from OpenAI’s hugely popular ChatGPT chatbot to AI image generators. and voice cloning software that are fooling ordinary Americans.

“The tremendous advantage of using the existing agencies and regulatory framework is that a new AI legislative initiative would be immensely difficult, from an intellectual and legal standpoint, but also from a political standpoint,” Blumenthal said. «Just think about how long and how much we’ve worked on privacy, which is complex and difficult, but can be child’s play compared to AI regulation.»

‘It’s too new, too hard’

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt argued on NBC’s «Meet the Press» Sunday that the AI ​​industry needs to come up with regulations before the government tries to intervene «because there’s no way a person who doesn’t belongs to the industry can understand what is possible.

«It’s too new, too difficult, there’s no such thing as experience,» Schimdt said. «There’s nobody in government who can do it right. But the industry can do it right, and then the government can put a regulatory structure around it.»

Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said last week at a «Hack the Capitol» cybersecurity conference that there may be a regulatory solution to AI security concerns. But he added: «Businesses need to organize at the highest level to prioritize safety and security.»

«That doesn’t mean you can’t have innovation, you can have innovation, you just can’t think about it, because innovation is incompatible with security,» he continued.

Steve DelBianco, a tech industry lobbyist who opposes government regulation of AI, said federal regulators and lawmakers have been forced to catch up with Silicon Valley in the past, with technologies like social media.

“Washington does not trust that Silicon Valley has thought through the consequences and disruptions of the technologies that they have implemented,” DelBianco said.

Regulators and lawmakers “are vying for the spotlight, to show that they are taking the lead to protect voters, protect consumers” when it comes to AI, he said.

germinating ideas

While Washington’s approach to tackling AI may now seem disjointed, lawmakers, regulators, and White House officials are having many conversations about it. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, hosted an AI briefing at the White House on May 3 with Arati Prabhakar, head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Durbin’s office confirmed. Approximately 20 senators, Democrats and Republicans, attended the meeting.

Blumenthal called AI the «bright, shiny new thing» in Washington, saying he sees no problem with a more organic, bottom-up approach to developing regulations in these early stages.

“In a way I see this phase as the germination of ideas and the coming together of ideas that make sense, but there doesn’t have to be some kind of top-down approach. I think, let 1,000 flowers bloom,» Blumenthal told NBC News.

Still, he argued that the executive branch will need to take the lead since international cooperation will be required, similar to the Human Genome Project of the 1990s and early 2000s.

“Ultimately, presidential leadership is absolutely necessary here,” Blumenthal said. There are so many international implications. Congress cannot conduct negotiations with the Chinese about whether they are going to follow the standards or the rules that we adopted.»

Other lawmakers say they are looking to tackle the AI ​​challenge in smaller chunks. The Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats held a closed-door briefing last week discussing AI issues, said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. And he said much attention will be paid to AI issues in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, the massive defense policy bill that Congress must pass each year.

«I think the pace of AI discussions in many committees is picking up right now,» Kaine said.

Rep. Jay Obernolte, R-Calif., a game developer who has a master’s degree in AI from UCLA, said he is part of the House-Senate talks to form a congressional AI task force that can solve the problems ahead of time so it doesn’t slow down a legislative package.

“We are in the early stages of formulating what a regulatory framework might look like. And I think as the effort matures a bit, you’ll see more coordination,» Obernolte said.

“The goal,” he said, “will be to have a bipartisan, bicameral task force so that we can put together something that doesn’t have to go through the tortuous process of being completely tweaked and changed as it goes from committee to House, and from the House to the Senate.

Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, DN.M., a Biden ally who sits on the Commerce panel, said he is committed to passing AI legislation on issues he cares about, particularly around national security and data breaches. movie and music copyrights. He predicted that Biden would back AI legislation if Congress sends it to his desk.

“I appreciate what the executive branch is doing,” said Luján. “I am a legislator, and I am a legislator, and we move the legislation. We build packages together. We found consensus.»

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