By Brian Fung, CNN
Washington (CNN) — Some of the most influential voices in the tech industry are meeting with federal lawmakers Wednesday as the US Senate prepares to draw up legislation regulating the fast-moving artificial intelligence industry.
Among those attending the in-person event are the CEOs of Anthropic, Google, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, OpenAI, Palantir and X, the company formerly known as Twitter. The guest list also includes Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, along with leading officials from the entertainment industry, civil rights groups and labor organizations.
Today’s meeting and its expected all-star cast marks the first of nine sessions hosted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has pledged to craft comprehensive guardrails regulating the AI sector in what he’s described as an unprecedented congressional effort.
“With AI we can’t be like ostriches sticking our heads in the sand,” Schumer said, according to prepared remarks acquired by CNN. He also noted this is, “a conversation never before seen in Congress.”
The push reflects policymakers’ growing awareness of how artificial intelligence, and particularly the type of generative AI popularized by tools such as ChatGPT, could potentially disrupt business and everyday life in numerous ways — ranging from increasing commercial productivity to threatening jobs, national security and intellectual property.
The high-profile assemblage of guests trickled in shortly before 10 a.m., with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg pausing to chat with Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang outside the Senate Russell office building’s Kennedy Caucus Room. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was seen huddling with Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, while X owner Elon Musk quickly swept by a mass of cameras with a quick wave to the crowd. Inside, Musk was seated at the opposite end of the room from Zuckerberg, in what is likely the first time that the two men have shared a room since they began challenging each other to a cage fight months ago.
The session at the US Capitol in Washington could give the tech industry its most significant opportunity yet to influence how lawmakers design the rules that could govern AI. Some companies, including Google, IBM, Microsoft and OpenAI, have already offered their own in-depth proposals in white papers and blog posts that describe layers of oversight, testing and transparency — though some companies differ on key questions such as whether a new federal agency is needed to regulate AI.
But crucially, the event could also shed light on the political feasibility of a broad, sweeping AI law, setting expectations for what Congress may achieve.
“I think what these forums will do is give some insight into, you know, what is the range of opinion among members of Congress?” said Christopher Padilla, vice president of IBM’s global government affairs team. “Is there some consensus on some basic things, like transparency, or respecting intellectual property rules, or explainability of algorithms? Is there a common denominator someplace where enough members could agree? I think we’ll learn that through this process.”
At the meeting, Padilla added, IBM plans to highlight how some of the company’s clients are currently using its AI tools, as well as IBM’s proposed vision for AI policy, which calls for applying escalating restrictions to algorithms depending on the risks their use may cause. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna will also seek to “demystify” a widely held impression that AI development is done only by a handful of companies like OpenAI or Google, Padilla said.
Call for regulation
Executives such as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman already wowed some senators by publicly calling for new rules early in the industry’s lifecycle, which some lawmakers see as a welcome contrast to the social media industry that has resisted regulation.
Clement Delangue, co-founder and CEO of the AI company Hugging Face, tweeted last month that Schumer’s guest list “might not be the most representative and inclusive,” but that he would “try my best to share insights from a broad range of community members, especially on topics of openness, transparency, inclusiveness and distribution of power.”
Civil society groups have voiced concerns about AI’s possible dangers, such as the risk that poorly trained algorithms may inadvertently discriminate against minorities, or that they could ingest the copyrighted works of writers and artists without compensation or permission. Some authors have sued OpenAI over those claims, while others have asked in an open letter to be paid by AI companies. News publishers such as CNN, The New York Times and Disney are some of the content producers who have blocked ChatGPT from using their content. (OpenAI has said exemptions such as fair use apply to its training of large language models.)
“We will push hard to make sure it’s a truly democratic process with full voice and transparency and accountability and balance,” said Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, “and that we get to something that actually supports democracy; supports economic mobility; supports education; and innovates in all the best ways and ensures that this protects consumers and people at the front end — and just not try to fix it after they’ve been harmed.”
The concerns reflect what Wiley described as “a fundamental disagreement” with tech companies extending from how social media platforms have handled mis- and disinformation, hate speech and incitement.
“They’re complicated issues, but their way of how [the companies] understand and balance them, how they see cost centers in trust and safety rather than as really important investments …. we have real disagreements there,” Wiley said, adding that giving underrepresented groups a seat at the table will be crucial to a successful outcome. “While we share a lot of the same principles in many instances, I think the question is, how do we find the right balance that understands there are some legitimate issues on all sides of this conversation, but that without representation, without access … we are going to have larger societal problems.”
Navigating those diverse interests will be Schumer, who along with three other senators — South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich and Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young — is leading the Senate’s approach to AI. Earlier this summer, Schumer held three informational sessions for senators to get up to speed on the technology, including one classified briefing featuring presentations by US national security officials.
Wednesday’s meeting with tech executives and nonprofits marks the next stage of lawmakers’ education on the issue before they get to work developing policy proposals. In announcing the series in June, Schumer emphasized the need for a careful, deliberate approach and acknowledged that “in many ways, we’re starting from scratch.”
Schumer’s personal involvement in the effort highlights what he has described as the unique challenge that AI poses for congressional leaders, and the need for a special process.
“AI is unlike anything Congress has dealt with before,” he said. “It’s not like labor, or healthcare, or defense, where Congress has had a long history we can work off of. Experts aren’t even sure which questions policymakers should be asking.”
In a proposed framework for legislation, Schumer suggested that any laws Congress passes to regulate AI should prioritize innovation while ensuring that democracy, national security and consumers’ ability to understand the technology are not compromised. A smattering of AI bills have already emerged on Capitol Hill and seek to rein in the industry in various ways, but Schumer’s push represents a higher-level effort to coordinate Congress’s legislative agenda on the issue.
New AI legislation could also serve as a potential backstop to voluntary commitments that some AI companies made to the Biden administration earlier this year to ensure their AI models undergo outside testing before they are released to the public.
But even as US lawmakers prepare to legislate by meeting with industry and civil society groups, they are already months if not years behind the European Union, which is expected to finalize a sweeping AI law by year’s end that could ban the use of AI for predictive policing and restrict how it can be used in other contexts.
Senators blast AI forum
A bipartisan pair of US senators sharply criticized the meeting, saying the process is unlikely to produce results and does not do enough to address the societal risks of AI.
Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley each spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the meeting. The two lawmakers recently introduced a legislative framework for artificial intelligence that they said represents a concrete effort to regulate AI — in contrast to what was happening steps away behind closed doors.
“This forum is not designed to produce legislation,” Blumenthal said. “Our subcommittee will produce legislation.”
Blumenthal added that the proposed framework — which calls for setting up a new independent AI oversight body, as well as a licensing regime for AI development and the ability for people to sue companies over AI-driven harms — could lead to a draft bill by the end of the year.
“We need to do what has been done for airline safety, car safety, drug safety, medical device safety,” Blumenthal said. “AI safety is no different — in fact, potentially even more dangerous.”
Hawley called Wednesday’s sessions “a giant cocktail party” for the tech industry and slammed the fact that it was private.
“I don’t know why we would invite all the biggest monopolists in the world to come and give Congress tips on how to help them make more money, and then close it to the public,” Hawley said. “I mean, that’s a terrible idea. These are the same people who have ruined social media.”
Despite talking tough on tech, Schumer has moved extremely slowly on tech legislation, Hawley said, pointing to several major tech bills from the last Congress that never made it to a Senate floor vote.
“It’s a little bit like antitrust the last two years,” Hawley said. “He talks about it constantly and does nothing about it. My sense is … this is a lot of song and dance that covers the fact that actually nothing is advancing. I hope I’m wrong about that.”
Hawley is also a co-sponsor of a bill introduced Tuesday led by Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar that would prohibit generative AI from being used to create deceptive political ads. Klobuchar and Hawley, along with fellow co-sponsors Coons and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, said the measure is needed to keep AI from manipulating voters.
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