What to Know in Washington: Congress Faces A.I. Learning Curve

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Leaders of artificial intelligence companies are making an unusual request to Congress as their industry advances: establish safeguards to mitigate threats their technology poses. Lawmakers echo their anxieties, but creating new laws presents stiff challenges.

Tools such as OpenAI Inc.’s ChatGPT that collect data from users have raised privacy concerns. New language models have the ability to write songs, produce visuals, and mimic real-life artists without their consent. Human bias and discrimination could permeate A.I. systems and negatively affect minorities. The rise in deepfakes and voice cloning could pose risks to democracy, especially regarding misinformation in elections. Bad actors could exploit A.I. to spam and manipulate users.

Though Democrats and Republicans have displayed unity over the need to regulate the emerging technology, history isn’t on Congress’ side when it comes to reining in the tech industry. Lawmakers failed to significantly move the needle on social media regulations and now worry about bungling the response to A.I.

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asks questions before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law on May 16, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

The Senate Judiciary’s privacy, technology, and law subcommittee heard testimony this week on its dangers from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and IBM Chief Privacy and Trust Officer Christina Montgomery. The hearing was the first of many to better understand the benefits and harms of the emerging technology.

Subcommittee chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who opened the hearing with an A.I.-generated recording that sounded like his voice, acknowledged that regulating A.I. is a complex task and Congress doesn’t have the expertise.

Read More: OpenAI, IBM Urge Senate to Act on A.I. Regulation After Past Tech Failures

Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.) met Wednesday with Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) about their emerging bipartisan group focused on comprehensive A.I. legislation, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

But discussions are a far cry from moving forward on sweeping legislation.

“The idea that we need to put some guardrails in place is a good one. But what does that mean? I don’t know,” said Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary panel that hosted the hearing this week. “Nobody knows, right?”

Advocates for A.I. regulation say they are enthused by lawmakers’ recent focus on the technology, though also recognize that a learning curve exists.

“That, I think, is going to be the question: How quickly can they feel like they have enough competency in this space to draft a bill that actually gets at some of the harms that they unearthed?” said Jordan Shapiro, director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Innovation Frontier Project. Read the full story by Oma Seddiq.


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To contact the reporters on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com; Andrew Small at asmall@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kayla Sharpe at ksharpe@bloombergindustry.com

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