Friday, March 3, 2023

How can Congress legislate about AI if they don't know what it is?

Cecilia Kang and Adam Satariano, As A.I. Booms, Lawmakers Struggle to Understand the Technology, NYTimes, Mar. 3, 2023.

In recent weeks, two members of Congress have sounded the alarm over the dangers of artificial intelligence.

Representative Ted Lieu, Democrat of California, wrote in a guest essay in The New York Times in January that he was “freaked out” by the ability of the ChatGPT chatbot to mimic human writers. Another Democrat, Representative Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts, gave a one-minute speech — written by a chatbot — calling for regulation of A.I.

But even as lawmakers put a spotlight on the technology, few are taking action on it. No bill has been proposed to protect individuals or thwart the development of A.I.’s potentially dangerous aspects. And legislation introduced in recent years to curb A.I. applications like facial recognition have withered in Congress.

The problem is that most lawmakers do not even know what A.I. is, said Representative Jay Obernolte, a California Republican and the only member of Congress with a master’s degree in artificial intelligence.

“Before regulation, there needs to be agreement on what the dangers are, and that requires a deep understanding of what A.I. is,” he said. “You’d be surprised how much time I spend explaining to my colleagues that the chief dangers of A.I. will not come from evil robots with red lasers coming out of their eyes.”

The inaction over A.I. is part of a familiar pattern, in which technology is again outstripping U.S. rule-making and regulation.

Consequences (Europe's ahead):

Carly Kind, director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, a London organization focused on the responsible use of technology, said a lack of regulation encouraged companies to put a priority on financial and commercial interests at the expense of safety.

“By failing to establish such guardrails, policymakers are creating the conditions for a race to the bottom in irresponsible A.I.,” she said.

In the regulatory vacuum, the European Union has taken a leadership role. In 2021, E.U. policymakers proposed a law focused on regulating the A.I. technologies that might create the most harm, such as facial recognition and applications linked to critical public infrastructure like the water supply. The measure, which is expected to be passed as soon as this year, would require makers of A.I. to conduct risk assessments of how their applications could affect health, safety and individual rights, like freedom of expression.

Do we need a new agency?

Mr. Lieu, who met with Mr. Altman, said the government couldn’t rely on individual companies to protect users. He plans to introduce a bill this year for a commission to study A.I. and for a new agency to regulate it.

There's more at the link.

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