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Senators use hearings to explore regulation on artificial intelligence

Lawmakers are looking to build rules for AI as the technology comes into greater public consciousness

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, takes his seat Tuesday before the start of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law Subcommittee hearing rules for artificial intelligence.
Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, takes his seat Tuesday before the start of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law Subcommittee hearing rules for artificial intelligence. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee said at a hearing Tuesday that Congress should take lessons from the emergence of social media and act soon on artificial intelligence.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said lawmakers in the past failed to adequately address social media, leading to predators on the internet and toxic content — issues lawmakers are now trying to clean up after the fact.

“Congress failed to meet the moment on social media. Now we have the obligation to do it on AI before the threats and the risks become real,” Blumenthal said. “Sensible safeguards are not in opposition to innovation. Accountability is not a burden, far from it.”

Lawmakers in Washington are looking to build rules for artificial intelligence as the technology comes into greater public consciousness, particularly with the emergence of tools such as ChatGPT.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee also held a hearing Tuesday about the use of artificial intelligence in the government. Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., said the government is already using the technology in its efforts to automate routine tasks and assess potential security threats.

“We should work to ensure that government can adopt and deploy these tools to help improve American lives, but as we do so, we must ensure that we are prepared to address the potential risk,” Peters said.

A House Judiciary subcommittee has set a hearing Wednesday on artificial intelligence and copyright law.

At Tuesday’s hearing at the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, senators underscored the possible promises and harms of artificial intelligence, delving into a broader discussion of the magnitude of the technology and the wide-ranging changes it might bring.

Parts of the Judiciary panel hearing went into deeper questions over how artificial intelligence might shape the future of the world.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri compared the emergence of artificial intelligence to the invention of the internet, and said it has the power to be far more significant. But he said it remains to be seen how the technology will be used. He pondered whether it will be used to empower individuals or create technology that haunts humanity.

“We could be looking at one of the most significant technological innovations in human history,” Hawley said. “And I think my question is, what kind of an innovation is it going to be?”

Blumenthal said there are real potential bright sides to artificial intelligence, such as curing cancer or developing new understanding of physics. But the technology comes with potential pitfalls, such as disinformation and deepfakes, he said.

“Perhaps the biggest nightmare is the looming new industrial revolution, the displacement of millions of workers, the loss of huge numbers of jobs,” Blumenthal said.

Industry officials testified at the hearing that the U.S. government should play a role in addressing artificial intelligence.

Samuel Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, which released ChatGPT, told the committee that the artificial intelligence research and deployment company thinks “regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models.”

The U.S. government might consider licensing and testing requirements for the development and release of certain artificial intelligence models, Altman said. He added that companies such as OpenAI can partner with governments to make sure that the most powerful artificial intelligence models follow safety requirements.

One witness, Christina Montgomery, vice president and chief privacy and trust officer for IBM, said the company urges Congress to adopt a “precision regulation” approach to artificial intelligence.

“While AI may be having its moment, the moment for government to play a role has not passed us by,” Montgomery told lawmakers.

In a press release last month, the office of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the New York Democrat has been talking about and circulating a “high-level framework that outlines a new regulatory regime for artificial intelligence.”

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