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Tech leaders urge Congress to regulate AI for safety and fairness

AI safety forum brings together top voices in business, civil rights, defense, research, labor, and the arts

On Wednesday, September 13, 2023, a group of top tech leaders and experts convened in Washington for the first of nine meetings with US senators to discuss the rise of artificial intelligence and how it should be regulated. The closed-door meeting was organized by the Democratic senator Chuck Schumer who called it “one of the most important conversations of the year”.

The forum comes as the federal government explores new and existing avenues to regulate AI, which has been advancing rapidly in recent years and poses significant challenges and opportunities for society. Schumer said that the goal of the forum was to “have a much-needed conversation about how Congress can tackle AI” and to “ensure that AI is used for good, not evil”.

Among the 22 attendees were some of the most influential figures in the tech industry, such as Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google; Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX; Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook; Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI; Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft; and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google. They were joined by representatives from various sectors and fields that are impacted by AI, such as civil rights, defense, research, labor, education, and the arts.

Tech leaders urge Congress to regulate AI for safety and fairness

Tech leaders agree on AI regulation but divided on how

While there was a general consensus among the participants that AI regulation is necessary and inevitable, there were also divergent views on how to approach it. Some tech leaders advocated for a more proactive and collaborative role for the government in shaping the development and deployment of AI, while others warned against excessive or premature regulation that could stifle innovation and competitiveness.

For instance, Pichai argued that the US should adopt a “principled and responsible” approach to AI regulation that balances the potential benefits and risks of the technology. He said that the government should work with industry and academia to establish standards and best practices for AI development and use, as well as to support research and education in AI-related fields.

On the other hand, Musk expressed his concerns about the existential threat that superintelligent AI could pose to humanity if left unchecked. He urged the government to create a global regulatory body that could monitor and control the development of AI systems that surpass human intelligence. He also suggested that humans should merge with AI through neural implants to avoid becoming irrelevant or obsolete.

Zuckerberg took a more moderate stance, saying that he supports some form of regulation for AI but not too much. He said that he believes that AI can be a force for good in society if used ethically and transparently. He also highlighted some of the initiatives that Facebook has taken to ensure the safety and fairness of its AI systems, such as creating an independent oversight board and conducting regular audits.

Civil society groups raise concerns about AI impacts on human rights and labor

In addition to the tech leaders, some civil society groups also participated in the forum to voice their concerns about the impacts of AI on human rights and labor. They urged the government to ensure that AI is used in a way that respects human dignity, diversity, and democracy.

For example, Maya Wiley, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, said that AI has the potential to amplify existing inequalities and biases in society if not regulated properly. She said that AI systems should be designed and tested for fairness, accountability, and transparency, and that affected communities should have a say in how they are used.

Similarly, Elizabeth Shuler, the president of the labor union AFL-CIO, said that AI could have profound implications for workers’ rights and welfare. She said that AI could create new opportunities for workers but also displace them or degrade their working conditions. She called for a “just transition” for workers affected by AI, which would include retraining, social protection, and collective bargaining.

Next steps for Congress

The forum was intended to be a listening session for senators to learn from different perspectives on AI regulation. Schumer said that he hopes that the forum will lead to concrete actions from Congress to address the challenges and opportunities posed by AI. He said that he plans to introduce legislation on AI regulation in the coming months.

He also said that he hopes that the forum will spark a broader public debate on AI regulation. He said that he wants to hear from more stakeholders and experts on how to ensure that AI is used for good. He invited anyone who has an opinion or idea on AI regulation to contact him or his office.

The forum was the first of nine meetings that Schumer plans to hold with different groups on various topics related to AI regulation. The next meeting will focus on national security implications of AI and will feature representatives from the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.

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