American politicians want to work on AI legislation


OpenAI CEO Sam Altman ahead of the hearing

American politicians see the need to make new legislation for AI (artificial intelligence). This emerged today in a hearing before a US Senate committee including CEO Sam Altman of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT.

For the occasion, Senator Richard Blumenthal (Democrats), who opened the hearing, had asked ChatGPT what he should say and then had a voice generator – trained on his voice – say it. That set the tone. He compared the current engine under ChatGPT, GPT-4, with the first telephone. To put it bluntly, it’s only just begun.

Cost jobs

Blumenthal said he is particularly concerned about the possibility that many jobs will disappear due to AI. Senator Josh Hawley (Republicans) compared the underlying language models on which applications such as ChatGPT are based with the invention of the Internet. “It could be one of the most important tech innovations in human history.”

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said artificial intelligence could be in the same league as the invention of the printing press. He also highlighted in his statement the great benefits that AI can have. Altman also called for regulation and argued that American leadership is crucial.

Experts present

In addition to Altman, the committee had invited two other speakers. Christina Montgomery, involved in AI developments at tech giant IBM and head of privacy, and Professor Gary Marcus of New York University, a frequent speaker on AI these months.

This also created a dynamic that often does not exist in hearings with tech CEOs: namely that there is an expert who can counter the CEO’s story. For example, Marcus said that OpenAI is not transparent about what data was used to train GPT4.

He also pointed out to the senators that Altman had not yet answered a question about what his worst nightmare was. To that, Altman said his biggest fear is that the technology could do “significant damage” to the world. “If this technology goes wrong, it could go very wrong.”

The hearing also discussed what kind of supervisor is needed. Marcus pleaded for someone at the cabinet level in the US, because of the sheer number of risks and the sheer amount of information available on this subject. Altman believes that a global organization is needed and cited the International Atomic Energy Agency as an example.

US and EU

The hearing comes less than a week after the European Parliament took an important step in laying down rules for the EU. The Artificial Intelligence Act has been in the works for two years now, a law that is now extremely relevant. Senator Blumenthal also referred to this fact in the hearing, emphasizing that the US cannot be left behind.

In the US, hearings have been held with the CEOs of tech companies for years. Famous are the hearings with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg from 2018. Two years later no less than four CEOs – from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – had to participate in an hour-long hearing via a video screen. Such hearings are often accompanied by political theater and do not always yield any real results.

Today’s hearing was actually very substantive and constructive. The politicians present seemed willing to listen and consider the suggestions that were made.

The question is whether the tone of today’s hearing – with its emphasis on the need for action to be taken – is a harbinger of legislation in the near future. There seemed to be support for rules among both Democrats and Republicans, although that is not necessarily a guarantee of success. In any case, more hearings on the subject are planned.

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