Congress starts trying to figure out how to set AI ‘rules of the road’
U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., at a U.S. Senate hearing on artificial intelligence on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. (Jacob Fischler/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — The development of artificial intelligence presents far-reaching challenges for virtually every aspect of modern society, including campaigns, national security and journalism, members of a U.S. Senate panel said at a Tuesday hearing.
Technology experts invited to testify at a hearing of the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said Congress should pursue comprehensive standards for companies developing and deploying AI to ensure consumers are protected.
AI has the potential to help with a host of tasks, subcommittee Chair John Hickenlooper said, but could also be misused by bad actors.
“AI is a transformative technology that has both benefits and risks,” the Colorado Democrat said. “Congress will play a role in setting reasonable rules of the road to inform and protect consumers.”
Victoria Espinel, the CEO of the industry group BSA | The Software Alliance, told the panel that using “impact assessments” to identify the biggest risks from AI and how to mitigate them would be vital to gaining consumer trust. Congress should legislate a requirement to continuously assess the risks from AI, she said.
“Consumers need to have confidence that if AI is being used in a way that will have an impact on their rights, or have significant consequences for their life, that that AI is being vetted and that it is being continuously monitored,” Espinel said. “Having a strong national law from the United States I think is very important in terms of protecting consumers and our economy.”
Worries about ‘deep fakes’
The hearing touched on myriad challenges related to the technology.
Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar said she was concerned about AI “deep fakes” being used in campaign advertising. Political operatives could use AI to impersonate opposing candidates, she said.
Klobuchar introduced a bill Tuesday with Republicans Josh Hawley of Missouri and Susan Collins of Maine and Delaware Democrat Chris Coons to address fraudulent AI-generated campaign content, she said.
Using watermarks to authenticate ads and labeling AI-generated content could help, Klobuchar said.
Other senators and witnesses said they also favored disclosure of AI use in contexts beyond campaign ads. Consumers messaging chatbots, for example, should be told that they are interacting with an AI device instead of a human, they said.
Kansas Republican Jerry Moran asked Rob Strayer, the executive vice president of policy at the industry group Information Technology Industry Council, about the risks to national security if the United States falls behind China or other adversarial countries in developing AI.
“We really need to have a strong discussion with the private sector about how you can do the minimal amount of damage to future (research and development) and revenues for U.S.-based companies while ensuring that none of these tools end up in the hands of adversaries who are going to use those for military purposes,” Gregory said.
Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell said she was concerned about the impact AI could have on journalists.
Sam Gregory, the executive director of the human rights organization WITNESS, told Cantwell journalists might lack the “digital literacy” to identify AI-generated fraud, which could lead to spreading misinformation.
Recent focus on AI
The hearing and a simultaneous meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee were among the first steps Congress is taking to address AI, which is perhaps the dominant policy focus in Congress this week.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is hosting a closed-door forum Wednesday for senators to discuss the issue with leading industry and advocacy groups. Participants are expected to include leaders of Google, Microsoft, Meta, X and labor groups.
Earlier Tuesday, the White House said the Biden administration has extracted voluntary commitments from eight leading AI companies on how they would proceed with developing the technology.
The companies, Adobe, Cohere, IBM, Nvidia, Palantir, Salesforce, Scale AI, and Stability, agreed to test their AI systems before deploying them, sharing best practices, investing in cybersecurity and researching societal risks, according to a White House fact sheet.
The House Oversight Committee will also hold a hearing on the issue Thursday.
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