In recent years, the tone of congressional hearings featuring tech executives has been best described as hostile. Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and other tech luminaries have all been reprimanded on Capitol Hill by lawmakers disaffected by their companies.
But on Tuesday, Sam Altman, the chief executive of San Francisco startup OpenAI, testified before members of a Senate subcommittee and largely agreed with them about the need to regulate the growing technology being developed inside his company and others like Google. Powerful artificial intelligence technology. and Microsoft.
In his first testimony before Congress, Mr. Altman implored lawmakers to regulate AI as committee members’ understanding of the technology was just getting started. The hearing underscored deep unease among technologists and governments about the potential harms of artificial intelligence. But that unease did not extend to Mr. Altman, who has a friendly audience among members of the subcommittee.
Mr. Altman, a 38-year-old Stanford University dropout and tech entrepreneur, came out as a baptism of thought as an AI leader. Three hours of hearings.
Altman also spoke about his company’s technology at a dinner Monday night with dozens of House members and met privately with several senators ahead of the hearing, according to people who attended the dinner and meeting. He offered a loose framework for governing what happens next in a fast-moving system that some say could fundamentally change the economy.
“I think if the technology goes wrong, it can go terribly wrong. We want to be very vocal about that,” he said. “We want to work with the government to prevent this from happening.”
Mr. Altman made his first public appearance on Capitol Hill as interest in artificial intelligence exploded. Tech giants have poured energy and billions of dollars into what they say are transformative technologies, even as concerns grow about artificial intelligence’s ability to spread misinformation, kill jobs and one day match human intelligence. effect.
That puts the technology in the spotlight in Washington. “There’s enormous potential and enormous danger in what you’re doing,” President Biden said this month in a meeting with a group of CEOs of artificial intelligence companies. Top leaders in Congress have also pledged to create AI regulations.
Members of the Senate Privacy, Technology and Legal Subcommittee did not plan to cross-examine Mr. Altman roughly because they thanked Mr. Altman for meeting with them privately and for agreeing to testify. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, referred to Mr. Altman by his first name several times.
Christina Montgomery, IBM’s chief privacy and trust officer, and Gary Marcus, a prominent professor and frequent critic of AI technology, also attended the hearing.
Mr Altman said his company’s technology could destroy some jobs but also create new ones, and it was important “for the government to figure out how we’re going to mitigate that”. Responding to an idea presented by Dr. Marcus, he proposed the creation of an agency that would issue licenses for the development of large-scale AI models, safety regulations, and the tests that AI models must pass before they are released to the public.
“We believe that the benefits of the tools we have deployed so far far outweigh the risks, but keeping them safe is critical to our work,” Mr Altman said.
But it’s unclear how lawmakers will respond to calls to regulate AI. Congress has a dismal record on technology regulation. Dozens of privacy, speech and safety bills have failed over the past decade amid partisan bickering and backlash from tech giants.
U.S. regulations on privacy, speech and child protection lag behind the world. It also lags behind AI regulations. EU lawmakers are due to set rules for the technology later this year. China enacts AI laws consistent with its censorship laws.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Senate committee, said the hearing was part of a series of hearings aimed at learning more about the potential pros and cons of artificial intelligence and eventually “making the rules” for it. for the first time.
He also acknowledged that Congress has failed to keep up with the introduction of new technologies in the past. “Our goal is to demystify and take responsibility for these new technologies, so as to avoid some of the mistakes of the past,” Mr Blumenthal said. “Congress failed to embrace the moment on social media.”
Subcommittee members suggested creating an independent agency to oversee artificial intelligence; rules forcing companies to disclose how their models work and the datasets they use; and antitrust rules to prevent companies like Microsoft and Google from monopolizing emerging markets.
“It’s the little things that make the difference,” said Sarah Myers West, managing director of the AI Now Institute, a policy research center. She said Mr Altman’s regulatory proposals did not go far enough and should include limiting how artificial intelligence is used in policing and the use of biometric data. She noted that Mr. Altman showed no signs of slowing down the development of OpenAI’s ChatGPT tool.
“It’s ironic to see how concerned people are about the harms that are being rapidly put into commercial use by the same people that are causing them,” Ms West said.
Still, some lawmakers at the hearing demonstrated the persistent gap in technical knowledge between Washington and Silicon Valley.South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham repeatedly asked witnesses whether the liability protections for speech on online platforms like Facebook and Google also apply to artificial intelligence
Unflappable, Mr. Altman made multiple attempts to distinguish artificial intelligence from social media. “We need to work together to find a whole new approach,” he said.
Some subcommittee members have also shown reluctance to crack down too hard on an industry that has huge economic prospects for the United States and competes directly with rivals like China.
Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said the Chinese are creating artificial intelligence that “reinforces the core values of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese system.” “And I care about how we promote AI to strengthen and strengthen open markets, open societies and democracy.”
Some of the most pointed questions and comments to Mr. Altman came from Dr. Marcus, who pointed out that OpenAI was not transparent about the data it used to develop its system.He is skeptical of Mr Altman’s predictions that new jobs will replace those killed by AI
“We have unprecedented opportunity here, but we also face a perfect storm of corporate irresponsibility, widespread deployment, lack of proper regulation and inherent unreliability,” Dr Marcus said.
Tech companies argue that Congress should be wary of any broad rules that lump together different kinds of artificial intelligence. At Tuesday’s hearing, IBM’s Ms. Montgomery called for an AI law similar to Europe’s proposed regulations, outlining different levels of risk. She called for rules that focus on specific uses, rather than regulating the technology itself.
“In essence, AI is just a tool, and the tool can serve a different purpose,” she said, adding that Congress should take a “precise regulatory approach” to AI