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A Turning Point for U.S. AI Policy: Senate Explores Solutions

Accepted submission by fliptop at 2023-05-19 22:25:43
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Almost 20 years ago, Senator Ted Stevens was widely mocked and ridiculed for referring to the Internet as a series of tubes [wikipedia.org] even though he led the Senate Commerce Committee which was responsible for regulating it. And just several years ago, members of Congress were mocked for their lack of understanding of Facebook's business model when Mark Zuckerberg testified about the Cambridge Analytica scandal [theverge.com].

Fast forward to this week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee held one of the most productive hearings in Congress in many years, taking up the challenge of how to regulate the emerging AI revolution. This time around, the senators were well-prepared, knowledgeable and engaged. Over at ACM, Marc Rotenberg, a former Staff Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee has a good assessment of the meeting that notes the highlights and warning signs [acm.org]:

It is easy for a Congressional hearing to spin off in many directions, particularly with a new topic. Senator Blumenthal set out three AI guardrails—transparency, accountability, and limitations on use—that resonated with the AI experts and anchored the discussion. As Senator Blumenthal said at the opening, "This is the first in a series of hearings to write the rules of AI. Our goal is to demystify and hold accountable those new technologies and avoid some of the mistakes of the past."

Congress has struggled in recent years because of increasing polarization. That makes it difficult for members of different parties, even when they agree, to move forward with legislation. In the early days of U.S. AI policy, Dr. Lorraine Kisselburgh and I urged bipartisan support [washingtonspectator.org] for such initiatives as the OSTP AI Bill of Rights [whitehouse.gov]. In January, President Biden called for non-partisan legislation for [wsj.com] AI. The Senate hearing on AI was a model of bipartisan cooperation, with members of the two parties expressing similar concerns and looking for opportunities for agreement.

[...] When asked about solutions for privacy, the witnesses tended toward proposals, such as opt-outs and policy notices, that will do little to curb the misuse of AI systems. The key to effective legislation will be to allocate rights and responsibilities for AI developers and users. This allocation will necessarily be asymmetric as those who are designing the big models are far more able to control outcomes and minimize risk than those who will be subject to the outputs. That is why regulation must start where the control is most concentrated. A good model for AI policy is the Universal Guidelines for AI [thepublicvoice.org], widely endorsed by AI experts and scientific associations.

[...] The news media is still captivated by tech CEOs. Much of the post-hearing reporting focused on Altman's recommendation to Congress. That is not how democratic institutions operate. Industry support for effective legislation will be welcomed by Congress, but industry does not get the final say. There are still too many closed-door meetings [nytimes.com] with tech CEOs. Congress must be wary of adopting legislation favored by current industry leaders. There should be more public hearings and opportunities for meaningful public comment [caidp.org] on the nation's AI strategy.

TFA also includes arguments on whether we even need legislation and observations on the risk of repeating past mistakes, among other points.

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