Artificial intelligence came to Washington in a big way last week.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman appeared before Congress for his first-ever testimony, speaking at a hearing called by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Josh Hawley.
The topic? How to monitor and validate AI safeguards.
The hearing lasted about three hours and focused mostly on Altman, although IBM executive Christina Montgomery and Gary Marcus, a leading AI expert, academic and entrepreneur, were also tested.
During the hearing, Altman covered a wide range of topics, including a discussion of the various risks posed by generative AI, what needs to be done to address those risks, and how companies should develop AI technology.
Altman even suggested that AI companies be regulated, possibly through the creation of one or more federal agencies and/or some type of licensing requirements.
The hearing, like most things in politics, was divisive. Some experts welcomed what they saw as the urgency needed by the federal government to address critical AI security issues.
Others criticized the hearings for being too friendly, citing concerns that companies like OpenAI are seeking undue influence over the regulatory and legislative process.
What do these hearings mean for AI regulation?
In episode 48 of the Marketing AI Show, I spoke with Paul Retzer, founder and CEO of the Marketing AI Institute, to find out.
Here’s what you need to know…
- The audition was important, but don’t expect too much from it. There is no doubt that the hearings were a watershed moment in the regulation of artificial intelligence. “But I wouldn’t expect much action anytime soon,” Retzer says. The motivations for the hearings are likely a mix of altruism — lawmakers actually want to understand AI security issues — and political posturing. In part, both sides of the aisle are trying to understand artificial intelligence to gauge public opinion and win votes.
- It’s clear that companies think they need control, or that control is coming. Based on his comments, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman seems to believe that whatever the company builds next will have a big impact on society. “I believe he’s really trying to prepare the public for this,” Retzer says. However, it’s also likely that companies like OpenAI see regulations as inevitable and try to get ahead of them by taking a leadership role in the regulatory process.
- The views of the participants of the hearing were different. Altman advocated a combination of licensing and regulatory measures. IBM’s Montgomery lobbied for “fine regulation,” meaning setting rules to govern the deployment of AI in specific use cases instead of regulating the technology. Marcus, a vocal critic of AI safety, warned that today’s AI systems are not as transparent, privacy-focused, bias-free and secure as they should be.
- Other meetings in Washington could see more concrete action on artificial intelligence. Around the same time as these hearings, three other important government meetings on AI took place. One addressed how the government should use AI in its own procurement and technology processes. Another dealt with intellectual property concerns. And the third was a public session featuring Google DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis and prominent AI researcher Fei-Fei Li on the impact of AI on science and society. All three indicate that much more government action on intellectual property could be done in the Altman hearings, Retzer says.
Bottom line: This hearing is notable because it puts AI security issues front and center, but it likely won’t lead to major regulatory action. However, there is much more going on behind the scenes in Washington than just these hearings.
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