As Congress races to regulate AI, tech experts want to show them how.


When Rep. Jerry McNerney took over the House caucus on artificial intelligence in 2018, his colleagues weren’t so keen.

“It’s been a problem getting our members to attend our meetings,” the California Democrat said, adding that a typical session involves 18 or 20 lawmakers. From a 435-person body.

McNearney’s colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic also felt a lack of enthusiasm. Brussels has been ramping up efforts to regulate the technology by 2020, but as Romanian MEP Dragos Tudorache, who heads the AI ​​initiative, spoke to the US caucus, there appeared to be little political activity.

It has changed. The overnight success of AI-powered ChatGPT has sparked hopes and fears among Washington lawmakers for new laws in the burgeoning field. Tudorache saw the buzz around AI when he visited Washington last month and attended a bilateral briefing with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

“There’s a different feeling,” Tudorache said in an interview.

But coping with rapidly evolving technology requires a sophisticated understanding of the complex systems that underpin AI, which sometimes confuses even experts. Congress’s salary cap pales in comparison to Silicon Valley’s sky-high paychecks, making it difficult to keep tech professionals on staff, while lawmakers struggle to keep up to speed — an increasingly urgent matter as the EU jumps ahead of Washington. Advancing strong AI legislation this week alone.

Europe moves ahead with AI regulation, challenging tech giant

to catch Members of Congress and their staff need a crash course in AI. With Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D.N.I.) on Wednesday preparing to draft a plan for how to regulate AI in Congress, lawmakers are suddenly holding briefings with top industry executives, calling leading academics for talks and taking other steps to test it. Wrap their heads in the growing field.

Legislators’ gaps in technical know-how are open to corporations’ advantage. Executives motivated to develop AI without hindrance are flocking to Washington to lend a hand in educating lawmakers and influencing policy. Schumer said his office met with about 100 outside experts, including “CEOs of companies working on AI, scientists, AI academics, industry leaders from many different perspectives, and AI critics” — including Microsoft president Brad Smith and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. .

This outrageous backlash has led some consumer advocates to challenge lawmakers to allow the industry to write its own rules — something some executives are recommending outright. In an interview this spring, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt argued that industry, not government, should set “reasonable boundaries” for future AI.

“There’s no way a non-industry person can understand what’s possible. So new, so hard. The profession doesn’t exist,” Schmidt told NBC. “There is no one in the government who is really fixing it. But the industry can actually fix it. “

Other industry leaders are taking a different tack, blurring out Congress’s vision of how Washington should regulate their companies. Altman In May He held private meetings and dinners with legislators, where he showed them how to write a speech on the floor of the chamber – ChatGPT. Smith has educated lawmakers on the technical stack that supports generative AI models like ChatGPT, including the computing infrastructure and applications. And Smith recently outlined the AI ​​rule in a speech in Washington attended by half a dozen lawmakers.

The stereotype that Congress doesn’t understand technology — fueled by high-profile gaffes at key tech hearings — is “outdated,” Smith said, adding that he’s “optimistic” about Congress’ ability to keep pace with AI advances.

Formal briefings provided more formal instruction. Senate and House leaders hosted AI discussions with MIT professors, where they reviewed the basics of how AI works and explored challenges with the technology, including how it could exacerbate existing biases.

During a Tuesday talk with MIT professor Antonio Torralba organized by Schumer’s office, some lawmakers asked basic questions, including how AI learns and where it gets its information, said Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-Nev.), a former computer programmer who left the session. Earlier.

“They’re putting a lot of time and effort into coming up to speed on AI,” said MIT professor Alexander Madry, who spoke at a briefing hosted by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in April. Madry has since gone professional licensing and is working with OpenAI.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has expressed skepticism about these efforts, suggesting that his colleagues’ technological expertise is irreparably flawed.

“Frankly, Congress doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing in this area,” Cruz said during a video conference call at the Political Technology Summit. “This is an institution. [where] I think the average age in the Senate is about 142. This is not a tech savvy group.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), a former venture capitalist, brought researchers and industry leaders to address senators after Schumer’s plenary briefing. Warner spokeswoman Rachel Cohen said his guests included a mix of experts, including Microsoft Chief Scientific Officer Eric Horvitz, Center for Security and Emerging Technologies Executive Director Davey Murdick and Deputy National Security Adviser Ann Neuberger.

“A lot of us are all on different learning paths,” Warner told reporters Tuesday.

The buzz and strong participation in the AI ​​briefings is a big change for Congress, where a handful of members — some with degrees in computer science — have long struggled to get the attention of their peers. Congress held its first hearing on AI in 2016, according to Cruz, who chaired the session. House lawmakers launched an AI caucus in 2017, and their Senate counterparts launched a similar initiative in 2019.

The rise of generative AI has finally sparked interest in such efforts. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said AI would affect “every jurisdiction of Congress” and argued that lawmakers should respond by reviving the Office of Technology Assessment, a Capitol technology think tank that has paid off during party battles. In the 1990s. Takano plans to introduce a funding bill for the office next month, along with Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), who sits on the Commerce Committee.

“What’s missing in Congress is a repository of expertise that’s on standby, that can change quickly, that can provide responses more quickly,” Takano said. “We want to have knowledge that is not contaminated or related to commercial interests.”

Some argue that concerns about a lack of technical expertise on Capitol Hill have been overblown, as lawmakers have introduced bills that could address most issues related to generative AI, including data protection and algorithmic audit bills.

“The job of Congress is not necessarily to know the ins and outs and nuts and bolts of every technology that they control,” said Anna Lenhart, who worked on technology policy for Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.). “Their job is to understand the impact of technology on society, its harms and its benefits.”

Lawmakers can obtain technology assessments from the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service. Zach Graves, executive director of the American Innovation Foundation, said GAO’s resources have improved in recent years, making it better prepared for technology hearings like Altman’s.

“They obviously did a lot of their homework,” Graves said.

Still, some worry that recent corporate lobbying on AI has pushed lawmakers closer to the industry they’re trying to regulate.

The CEO behind ChatGPT warns Congress that AI ‘could harm the world’

Unlike the confrontations with the Facebook and Google CEOs, lawmakers’ informal hearings with Altman show how effective recent events like his private dinners have been, said Sarah West, managing director and former senior adviser at the AI ​​Now Institute. Federal Trade Commission on AI.

West said executives like Google’s Schmidt are fueling the perception that AI is too difficult for Congress to understand.

That, she said, is a “convenient narrative that puts accountability out of the hands of the people who gave it to the people and into the hands of the industry that benefits.”


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