The US Senate Wants to Rein In AI. Good Luck With That

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While negotiations started with Young and Schumer, they didn’t end there. Rather, the pair heard input from other congressional committees and worked that into the final package.

“That was the most utilization I’ve seen of the committee process since I’ve been in Congress, and I think this has an opportunity to be even more inclusive,” Young says. “Senator Schumer and I started off with legislation, but then we drew extensively from different committees of jurisdiction. I think that this effort will be even more decentralized.”

While many senators will introduce their own AI measures, Young says the bipartisan effort is aimed at getting lawmakers on the same page.

“So some of us may have bills, but the real point of emphasis here will be on crowding in ideas from others, so I think this will be more committee-focused,” Young says.

Schumer’s Democratic partner in the AI talks is Heinrich, the New Mexico Democrat, who says the closed-door meetings in the Senate are meant to help strengthen the Senate’s long-standing committees.

“I think where we are right now is encouraging everyone through the normal processes,” Heinrich says. “Different committees are going to have very different jurisdictions.”

And there are a lot of committees and many AI-related issues to tackle. For example, the Judiciary Committee will need to sort out copyright questions, the Armed Services Committee will handle questions of war, peace, and nuclear Armageddon (concerns Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has raised). And the Education Committee will handle AI’s potential impact on public education.

Lawmakers—and their staffs—also have to pore over today’s laws to see which work and which need a reboot, like copyright law in the AI era. “Some of that, the existing law is adequate, and in other places, it’s not,” Heinrich says.

Counting Critics

For now, the AI talks have largely remained above the partisan fray. Last week, a bipartisan and bicameral group unveiled a new proposal to erect a national AI commission—comprising 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans—to address AI in a more dispassionate manner than we’ve come to expect from Congress. Even so, pro-industry critics are starting to voice their concerns over what they see as a rush to regulate.

“Putting the federal government in charge of the granular development of AI is a strategy certain to ensure that China beats us in every respect in the development of AI—and that would be catastrophic,” says Senator Ted Cruz.

Cruz is the top Republican on the Senate’s Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, which has sweeping jurisdiction over the economy. The junior senator from Texas fears Congress is going to overstep and crush innovation in the name of digital protectionism.

“I think that’s foolhardy. Very few members of Congress have any idea what AI is, much less how to regulate it. There are—no doubt, there are risks and risks we need to take seriously, but there are also enormous potential productivity gains. And the last thing we want to do is turn technology innovation into the Department of Motor Vehicles,” Cruz says.

Like his 99 colleagues, Cruz will get his say in due time. While the bipartisan AI working group isn’t focused on producing a massive, catch-all AI bill, its members know that such legislation could be the final outcome, following on the heels of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.

If that happens, it will be legislation the likes of which the Senate has never seen, in part because AI appears to be all-encompassing.

“It’s going to be big. It’s going to be big, and our hope is that all of the relevant committees do the hard work of figuring out where those things are,” Heinrich says. “Hopefully, we can get on the same page on a number of those things and then package that together.”

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