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Senate Hearing Addresses AI Technology Threats
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing on regulating artificial intelligence (AI) technology Tuesday, May 16th.
The hearing, chaired by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) of the subcommittee on privacy, technology, and law, began the hearing with a demonstration of this technology. This came in the form of an audio-cloned statement of the senator’s voice, generated by ChatGPT, demonstrating the palpable fears and risks that come with this newfound technology.
This display rendered many of the concerns surrounding AI technology apparent. Blumenthal continued, “What if I had asked it, and what if it had provided, an endorsement of Ukraine surrendering or (Russian President) Vladimir Putin’s leadership?”
ChatGPT is just one of many AI technologies that surged to public attention after it came into public consciousness in late 2022. Launched by OpenAI, ChatGPT is a free chatbot tool available to the public that answers questions and responds to prompts in a conversational, human-like manner. It can write code in addition to composing emails, scripts and papers reflecting the style of a particular author, character, or person.
These technologies can also create images, posing questions of copyright and more concerning, the spreading of misinformation through deepfake technology.
Another notable speaker at this hearing was OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. Altman testified, “As this technology advances, we understand that people are anxious about how it could change the way we live. We are too.”
Altman called for the need for government intervention in AI systems in order to “mitigate the risks.” He proposed the configuration of an agency that would license powerful AI systems and “ensure compliance with safety standards.”
Altman also addressed the potential consequences of these technologies on democracy, cautioning about the risks of AI sending targeted misinformation amidst elections.
“We’re going to face an election next year. And these models are getting better,” Altman stated.
The OpenAI CEO has acknowledged the possible dangers that AI poses, likening its impact and potential for change to that of “the printing press.” He continued to address the effect AI could have on our economy by way of these tools replacing certain jobs, resulting in more layoffs in some fields.
Also in attendance were chief privacy and trust officer of IBM, Christina Montgomery, and professor emeritus of psychology and neural science at New York University, Gary Marcus. Marcus was among a group of AI specialists who called for tech firms and OpenAI to temporarily halt the development of more advanced AI models for six months in an effort to give more time to consider the risks of these systems.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley acknowledged the technology as revolutionary, comparing it additionally to the invention of the “atomic bomb.”
“Artificial intelligence will be transformative in ways we can’t even imagine, with implications for Americans’ elections, jobs, and security,” Hawley stated. “This hearing marks a critical first step towards understanding what Congress should do.”
Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal forewarned, “We need to maximize the good over the bad. Congress has a choice now. We had the same choice when we faced social media. We failed to seize that moment.”
Several leaders in the tech industry are open to a form of AI technology oversight, yet are cautionary about severe regulations. Montgomery disagreed with the proposals of Altman and Marcus for an AI-focused regulator, instead advocating for precision regulation and “establishing rules to govern the deployment of AI in specific use-cases, not regulating the technology itself.”
One thing is apparent from this hearing; bi-partisan support exists for some form of regulation of the AI industry by a body or agency. The form and extent these regulations will take, however, remains undecided.