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After months of buildup, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) finally opened the U.S. Senate’s inaugural bipartisan AI Insight Forum this morning, in which all 100 senators have the opportunity to get a crash course on a variety of issues related to AI, including copyright, workforce issues, national security, high risk AI models, existential risks, privacy, transparency and explainability, and elections and democracy.
The closed-door event with lawmakers features Big Tech CEOs including Tesla’s Elon Musk, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, OpenAI’s Sam Altman, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Nvidia’s Jensen Huang of Nvidia, as well as leaders from tech, business, arts and civil rights organizations including the Motion Picture Association, the Writer’s Guild, the AFL-CIO and the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights.
In his opening remarks before the first three-hour session (of a total of six hours today), Schumer said he was “really excited” about the “truly unique forum” — which needs to be unique, he emphasized, because “tackling AI is a unique, once-in-a-kind undertaking.”
Today, he continued, “we begin an enormous and complex and vital undertaking: building a foundation for bipartisan AI policy that Congress can pass.”
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“We know this won’t be easy,” Schumer added in his opening remarks. “This is going to be one of the hardest tasks we undertake, because AI is so complex, will impact nearly every area of life, and is evolving all the time.”
With that caveat — that any AI regulation proposal would have to pass Congress — he added that there was no question that Congress should play a role.
“Without Congress we will neither maximize AI’s benefits, nor minimize its risks,” he said. “In past situations when things were this difficult, the natural reaction of a Senate or a House was to ignore the problem and let someone else do the job. But with AI we can’t be like ostriches sticking our heads in the sand. Only Congress can do the job, and if we wait until after AI has taken hold in society, it will have been too late.”
More deliberations to come
As he has in the past, Schumer repeated that there would be more of these forums in the months ahead. “We won’t be able to get to every topic today,” he said. “This process will take time.” And there will be more forums to continue our work in the months ahead.”
Schumer announced the forums, led by a bipartisan group of four senators, in June, along with his SAFE Innovation Framework for AI Policy. And at a July event held at IBM’s New York City headquarters, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he would convene a series of AI “Insight Forums” to “lay down the foundation for AI policy.” The first-ever forums, to be held in September and October, would be in place of congressional hearings that focus on senators’ questions, which Schumer said would not work for AI’s complex issues around finding a path towards AI legislation and regulation.
“We want to have the best of the best sitting at the table, talking to one another and answering questions, trying to come to some consensus and some solutions,” he said at the event, “while senators and our staffs and others just listen.”
Criticism of nonpublic forum
However, there has been criticism of the closed-door format: In June, the Center for AI and Digital Policy, which assesses national AI policies and practices, wrote a letter to Senator Schumer expressing concerns about the “closed-door briefings on AI policy” that had already taken place in the US Senate.
“While we support the commitment that you have made to advance bipartisan AI legislation in this Congress, we object to the process you have established,” the letter said. “The work of the Congress should be conducted in the open. Public hearings should be held. If the Senators have identified risks in the deployment of AI systems, this information should be recorded and made public. The fact that AI has become a priority for the Senate is even more reason that the public should be informed about the work of Congress.”
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