Capitol Hill: Tech titans, senators meet on forming legislation for Artificial Intelligence

‘Civilized discussion’ behind closed doors looks for ways to encourage development but mitigate biggest risks.

By Mary Clare Jalonick and Matt O'Brien | The Associated Press

Senators heard from prominent technology executives and others in private Wednesday on how to accomplish the potentially impossible task of passing bipartisan legislation within the next year that encourages the rapid development of artificial intelligence and mitigates its biggest risks.

Elon Musk, CEO of X, the company formerly known as Twitter, laughs while speaking to the media after attending a closed-door gathering of leading tech CEOs on Capitol Hillin Washington on Wednesday to discuss the priorities and risks surrounding artificial intelligence and how it should be regulated.

The closed-door forum on Capitol Hill convened by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer included almost two dozen tech executives, tech advocates, civil rights groups and labor leaders. The guest list featured some of the industry’s biggest names: Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and X and Tesla’s Elon Musk as well as former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. All 100senators were invited; the public was not.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said more than 60 senators attended and that there was some broad consensus in building a foundation for bipartisan AI policy. When he asked everyone in the room if government should have a role in regulating AI, “every single person raised their hands, even though they had diverse views,” he said.

Schumer, who was leading the forum with Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., will not necessarily take the tech executives’ advice as he works with colleagues to try and ensure some oversight of the burgeoning sector. But he is hoping they will give senators some realistic direction for meaningful regulation of the tech industry.

Tech leaders outlined their views, with each participant getting three minutes to speak on a topic of their choosing.

Musk and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt raised existential risks posed by AI, Zuckerberg brought up the question of closed vs. “open source” AI models and IBM CEO Arvind Krishna expressed opposition to the licensing approach favored by other companies, according to a person in attendance who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the rules of the closed-door forum.

Schumer said one of the issues discussed was whether there should be a new agency to regulate AI.

“It was a very civilized discussion among some of the smartest people in the world,” Musk told reporters after leaving the meeting. He said there is clearly some strong consensus.

Congress has a lackluster track record when it comes to regulating technology, and the industry has grown mostly unchecked by government in the past several decades.

Many lawmakers point to the failure to pass any legislation surrounding social media, such as for stricter privacy standards.

“We don’t want to do what we did with social media, which is let the techies figure it out, and we’ll fix it later,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said about the AI push.

Schumer said regulation of artificial intelligence will be “one of the most difficult issues we can ever take on,” and he listed some of the reasons why: It’s technically complicated, it keeps changing and it “has such a wide, broad effect across the whole world,” he said.

But his bipartisan working group — Rounds and Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Todd Young, R-Ind. — is hoping the rapid growth of artificial intelligence will create more urgency.

“AI is not going away, and it can do some really good things or it can be a real challenge,” Rounds said.

In the United States, major tech companies have expressed support for AI regulations, though they don’t necessarily agree on what that means. Microsoft has endorsed a licensing approach, for instance, while IBM prefers rules that govern the deployment of specific risky uses of AI rather than the technology itself.

“I think it’s important that government plays a role, both on the innovation side and building the right safeguards, and I thought it was a productive discussion,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said after leaving the forum.

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