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Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Senators want to regulate AI before it gets too big. They’re running out of time.
If the senators gathered for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on AI on Tuesday seem to agree on one thing, it’s that they don’t want to miss the opportunity to regulate AI like they did social media.
Throughout the hearing, which included testimony by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, IBM (IBM) Chief Privacy and Trust Officer Christina Montgomery, and NYU professor Gary Marcus, senators repeatedly pointed to Congress’ failure to regulate social media or pass any kind of meaningful data privacy legislation.
The gist of the legislators’ warnings came down to the potential for AI being used to influence consumers, generate disinformation, or reinforce bias.
“We had the same choice when we faced social media. We failed to seize that moment,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. “Now we have the obligation to do it on AI before the threats and risks become real.”
Fears that AI will be misused
During the hearing, Altman, Montgomery, and Marcus each told the gathered senators that Congress should put at least some kind legislation into place to govern the use of AI. Altman and Marcus in particular called for a new regulatory body that could provide the appropriate licenses for companies to deploy different types of AI.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law hearing on artificial intelligence, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Without those, the witnesses said, AI could present its own unique set of problems.
“Fundamentally, these new systems are going to be destabilizing,” Marcus said in his opening testimony. “They can and will create persuasive lies at a scale humanity’s never seen before. Outsiders will use them to affect our elections. Insiders to manipulate our markets and our political systems. Democracy itself is threatened.”
Altman, for his part, said he has his own set of fears about AI. “I think if this technology goes wrong, it could go quite wrong,” he said. “And we want to be vocal about that. We want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), meanwhile, questioned whether AI could be used to influence public opinion.
Calls for social media regulation but no action
For years members of Congress have called for stricter regulations over social media content.
Politicians have called for companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to be stripped or depleted of their Section 230 protections. Others have pushed for the establishment of comprehensive data privacy legislation to protect users’ online information.
There’s a handful of reasons social media has avoided regulations, including a lack of consensus on just how to do it. Section 230, which serves as the backbone of the modern internet, is a frequent target of both Democrats and Republicans. But neither side can agree on why.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks during a keynote address announcing ChatGPT integration for Bing on February 7, 2023. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP)
Democrats say they want to hold sites accountable for what their users post, especially when it comes to disinformation, while Republicans say they want to go after sites for over-moderating content.
Privacy regulation, meanwhile, has been in the works for years, but here we are in 2023 and there’s no true national data privacy law.
While Congress hasn’t been able to pull anything together with regards to social media or privacy, it looks as though there might be hope for AI regulation.
In addition to Altman and Montgomery calling for regulation, senators were largely open to ideas about how to deploy AI responsibly. And unlike hearings about social media when lawmakers have been hostile to witnesses such as Meta (META) CEO Mark Zuckerberg or former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the senators were generally calm and thoughtful in their comments.
Still, it’ll likely be some time before any kind of regulation sees the light of day. Blumenthal himself said that Tuesday’s hearing was the first of a number to come. But with the pace at which AI is advancing, that could be too long for Congress to wait.
Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him @DanielHowley
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GPT’s reaction to this article:
As an AI language model, I do not have opinions on articles. However, this article discusses the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on AI regulation and the potential risks associated with AI, such as the generation of disinformation and reinforcement of bias. The article highlights the need for AI legislation and a regulatory body to govern the use of AI. It also points out the failure of Congress to regulate social media and pass meaningful data privacy legislation. Despite the senators’ openness to ideas on how to deploy AI responsibly, it is unclear when any kind of regulation will be put in place.