Bipartisan Senate bloc pitches investing, reigning in AI tech

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WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of four senators led by Majority Leader Charles Schumer is recommending that Congress spend at least $32 billion over the next three years to develop artificial intelligence and place safeguards around it, writing in a report released Wednesday that the U.S. needs to “harness the opportunities and address the risks” of the quickly developing technology.

The group of two Democrats and two Republicans said in an interview Tuesday that while they sometimes disagreed on the best paths forward, they felt it was imperative to find consensus with the technology taking off and other countries like China investing heavily in its development. They settled on a raft of broad policy recommendations that were included in their 33-page report.

While any legislation related to AI will be difficult to pass, especially in an election year and in a divided Congress, the senators said that regulation and incentives for innovation are urgently needed.

“It’s complicated, it’s difficult, but we can’t afford to put our head in the sand,” said Schumer, D-N.Y., who convened the group last year after AI chatbot ChatGPT entered the marketplace and showed that it could in many ways mimic human behavior.

The group recommends in the report that Congress draft emergency spending legislation to boost U.S. investments in artificial intelligence, including new research and development and new testing standards to try to understand the potential harms of the technology. The group also recommended new requirements for transparency as artificial intelligence products are rolled out and that studies be conducted into the potential impact of AI on jobs and the U.S. workforce.

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, a member of the group, said the money would be well spent not only to compete with other countries who are racing into the AI space but also to improve Americans’ quality of life — supporting technology that could help cure some cancers or chronic illnesses, he said, or improvements in weapons systems could help the country avoid a war.

“This is a time in which the dollars we put into this particular investment will pay dividends for the taxpayers of this country long term,” he said.

The group came together a year ago after Schumer made the issue a priority — an unusual posture for a majority leader — and brought in Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana and Rounds of South Dakota.

As the four senators began meeting with tech executives and experts, Schumer said in a speech over the summer that the rapid growth of artificial intelligence tools was a “moment of revolution” and that the government must act quickly to regulate companies that are developing it.

Young said the development of ChatGPT, along with other similar models, made them realize that “we’re going to have to figure out collectively as an institution” how to deal with the technology.

“In the same breath that people marveled at the possibilities of just that one generative AI platform, they began to hypothesize about future risks that might be associated with future developments of artificial intelligence,” Young said.

While passing legislation will be tough, the group’s recommendations lay out the first comprehensive road map on an issue that is complex and has little precedent for consideration in Congress. The group spent almost a year compiling the list of policy suggestions after talking privately and publicly to a range of technology companies and other stakeholders, including in eight forums to which the entire Senate was invited.

The first forum in September included X owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Schumer said after the private meeting that he had asked everyone in the room — including almost two dozen tech executives, advocates and skeptics — whether government should have a role in the oversight of artificial intelligence, and “every single person raised their hand.”

Still, there are diverse views in the tech industry about the future of AI. Musk has voiced dire concerns evoking popular science fiction about the possibility of humanity losing control to advanced AI systems if the right safeguards are not in place. Others are more concerned about the details of how proposed regulations could affect their business, from possible government oversight over the most capable AI systems to tracking of highly sought-after AI computer chips for national security.

The four senators are pitching their recommendations to Senate committees, which are then tasked with reviewing them and trying to figure out what is possible. The Senate Rules Committee is already moving forward with legislation, on Wednesday approving three bills that would ban deceptive AI content used to influence federal elections, require AI disclaimers on political ads and create voluntary guidelines for state election offices that oversee candidates.

Information for this article was contributed by Dan Merica of The Associated Press.

    FILE – OpenAI’s ChatGPT app is displayed on an iPhone in New York, May 18, 2023. The rate of businesses in the U.S. using AI is still relatively small but growing rapidly, with firms in information technology and professional services, and in locations like Colorado and the District of Columbia, leading the way, according to a new paper from U.S. Census Bureau researchers. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
    Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at a Google I/O event in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)