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’s
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?
Could it shield children from dangerous online predators better than the Federal Bureau of Investigation?
And would it be more competent than the Department of Labor at navigating the employment ramifications of AI?
If you are skeptical that the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you are not alone. There is a reason why no evidence is presented alongside these new regulatory proposals. What is palpable, however, is an unsettling alignment between political leaders and tech magnates, seemingly driven by a combination of politicians’ endless lust for power and self-serving corporate interests.
The canvas isn’t entirely bleak. There are glimmers of rationality, such as a recent Senate HELP committee white paper, elucidating the potential boons of AI in sectors like healthcare and education. The report recognizes there are risks posed by AI, but also that the U.S. needs to adopt a flexible approach if it wants to maintain a global leadership position in AI and avoid stifling innovation.
Unfortunately, such glimmers of common sense are more the exception than the rule in Washington. If history and sage voices like Carlin’s are any guides, an excess of agreement in Washington usually portends a larger-than-usual deception at play.