America’s tech luminaries gathered in Washington, D.C. this week, ostensibly to “educate” senators on the nuances of artificial intelligence. The convening, referred to as an “AI insight forum,” followed several Congressional hearings related to AI regulation. Wherever one looked, the scene was awash with the flash of cameras and the hum of reporters chasing soundbites.
One could easily have been mistaken for thinking a rock concert was underway, given the overly-warm reception from Senator Chuck Schumer and colleagues. The senator’s message to the tech magnates was clear: tech giants are welcome, even lionized, in the corridors of power, so long as they play nice and cooperate with politicians, who want the final word over the future of their industry.
The response from tech CEOs like Elon Musk was equally glowing. “I thought Senator Schumer did a great service to humanity here,” Musk told a reporter.
The overt display of mutual admiration is cause for concern however. A case in point: during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week, Microsoft’sMSFT-1.9% President, Brad Smith, called for an AI licensing regime and a new, independent regulatory body for AI. On the same day, Senators Blumenthal and Hawley unveiled a remarkably similar regulatory framework. The convergence of these perspectives cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence. Rather, it’s indicative of an alliance between corporate America and the political elite.
One needn’t be a conspiracy theorist to see what is going on here. The comedian George Carlin once opined that bipartisan collaborations like that between Senators Hawley and Blumenthal aren’t always undertaken with the public interest at heart. If they were, such meetings would surely not be confined to dimly-lit rooms away from the public gaze, as was the case with the AI insight forum meeting this week.
Apparently, this is only the first of what are to be many such meetings. From what we’ve seen so far, there’s little reason to think the sessions will generate good ideas. The call for a new regulatory agency, for example, is devoid of any empirical grounding. Where is the evidence to substantiate the claim that a new bureaucratic entity can address challenges as varied as election interference and algorithmic discrimination in hiring decisions? The clamor for a new agency raises a myriad of questions:
Would such an entity be more adept at governing autonomous vehicles than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration?
Would it outperform the Food and Drug Administration in overseeing the medical applications of AI?
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