WASHINGTON — Congress is turning its attention to artificial intelligence this week as some of Big Tech’s best-known names gather on Capitol Hill for a first-of-its-kind meeting to consider how lawmakers can regulate the fast-moving technology that experts have warned that this could lead to the extinction of humanity.
In a closed session on Wednesday, all 100 senators will hear from Elon Musk, who bought Twitter and renamed it X; Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg; Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates; Sam Altman, the CEO of ChatGPT company OpenAI; and a number of other prominent technology leaders for what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has called his first AI Insight Forum.
Senate brainstorming sessions will run throughout the fall.
“Let’s see if there’s enough oxygen in the room for all of us,” quipped Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who plans to attend.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said with a smile that he expected “a lot of drama” Wednesday, perhaps a reference to the much-hyped cage fight between tech titans Musk and Zuckerberg that never materialized this year.
“We’ll see what actually comes out substantively,” Lankford said, adding that “all these tech CEOs are surrounded by lawyers telling them what to say and what not to say.”
With the who’s who of the tech world in one building, the forum is sure to attract an army of staffers, lobbyists and reporters. Security is increased every time Musk, also a top executive at SpaceX and Tesla and the richest person in the world, enters the Capitol; Security will be even tighter when a group of tech billionaires roam the halls.
On the same day, a House oversight subcommittee led by Rep. Nancy Mace, R-R.C., will hold a hearing with Biden administration technology officials titled: “How do federal agencies use artificial intelligence?”
And on Tuesday, the Senate will hold two AI hearings. The heads of a key subcommittee on commerce and science — Sens. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. – will hear testimony from experts about how AI companies can achieve this increase transparency and public trust.
Meanwhile, the heads of the Judiciary Technology and Privacy Subcommittee — Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo. — plan to hold their third hearing on AI oversight and regulation, featuring executives from Microsoft and powerhouse chipmaker Nvidia.
The Senate duo recently presented one non-partisan framework for upcoming legislation, simply called the US AI Act, which would require AI companies to register with an independent regulator to ensure they can be held legally liable for things like data breaches and explicit deep fakes, and Imposing transparency requirements for training data and accuracy of AI models.
Blumenthal said his bipartisan framework is “closely linked to Schumer’s framework on AI,” and he said the committees work “in tandem” with the Democratic leader’s high-profile technology forums.
“For the leader to make it a priority and spend so much time on it sends a strong signal about the need for legislation,” Blumenthal said in an interview. “We all know that the way Congress works is that legislation comes from committees. Very rarely does a bill end up directly in the plenary, and certainly not a large bill of this importance.”
Schumer in the AI spotlight
Whether the legislation can be written and implemented by the end of the year remains uncertain. (Ask ChatGPT and the AI platform will tell you whether or not a bill will pass Congress in the future is uncertain.) However, it is unusual for the Senate leader to take responsibility for a specific policy issue, as Schumer did has artificial intelligence – especially since it is a topic that he has hardly dealt with in the past.
In a major speech on AI this summer, Schumer called it “a moment of revolution.” And the New York Democrat has formed his own bipartisan working group on AI, which includes Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Todd Young, R-Ind., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D. belong. The group is embarking on a balancing act: They talk about how AI can improve the lives of Americans, but also emphasize that it poses a serious threat, potentially displacing millions of jobs, interfering in elections, spreading disinformation and a threat to the represents national security.
“If we do nothing, AI will advance without us and the threats could be maximized and the opportunities minimized. And so this will be, if you will, one of the most important sessions that Congress has ever had,” Schumer told reporters. The forums, a novel approach, are necessary because AI is “so unique”. It is wide and deep. It will affect every aspect of society. It’s constantly changing and very complicated.”
Part of the challenge in crafting AI legislation is that it touches virtually every committee in Congress, from Commerce and Justice to Armed Services, Agriculture and Energy. For example, Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., a member of the Commerce and Science Committee, said he was interested in copyright infringement in movies and music, but also in new AI standards from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, known as NIST .
“It’s endless,” Lujan said.
The goal of the series of insight forums is to “obtain as much information as possible” to show committee chairs of both parties how AI will impact areas over which they have jurisdiction.
“This won’t work if we don’t keep the committee structure workable, and it won’t work if we don’t keep it bipartisan,” Rounds said in an interview. When asked when lawmakers might find a legislative solution to the already booming industry, Rounds couldn’t give a clear answer: “We’re in the learning phase and we’re going to stay there for a while.”
The inventors and innovators
Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., another member of the commerce panel, said she wants to make sure new regulations don’t stifle innovation from some small inventors and innovators.
“We want to make sure, first of all, that when we make AI policy, we’re not just listening to the high-profile, very wealthy people on the front lines, but also to the innovators, but when we’re making AI policy, we’re doing things behind the scenes, from that we don’t even know about,” Lummis said.
“These kinds of innovations aren’t necessarily going to come from the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs – they’re more likely to be the ones buying this technology from the people who are developing it,” Lummis continued. “So what we want. We need to make sure that we don’t contribute to creating monopolistic situations in emerging industries, and AI is an emerging industry.”
On the other side of the floor, House Republicans led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have also expressed reservations about over-regulation of artificial intelligence, although most lawmakers don’t fully understand it. McCarthy organized a bipartisan briefing for members with experts from MIT this spring.
“I mean, I saw Schumer go out and say he wanted it [regulate AI]McCarthy said during an interview earlier this year. “Schumer uses a flip phone. I’m not sure a guy with a flip phone who doesn’t even know how to use a smartphone should be talking about what he’s doing in AI.”
In addition to Musk, Zuckerberg and Gates, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Microsoft, Nvidia and Palantir will also be present at Wednesday’s forum, as will the heads of labor, human rights and entertainment groups. They include Elizabeth Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Charles Rivkin, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association.