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‘Giant Cocktail Party’

Musk Backs AI Regulation; Warren, Hawley Criticize Closed AI Forum

The government needs to regulate AI to ensure companies are operating safely and in the “interest of the general public,” Tech billionaire Elon Musk told reporters Wednesday.

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Musk was one of several tech executives to attend the Senate’s AI Insight Forum, hosted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, ChatGPT CEO Sam Altman, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang and IBM CEO Arvind Krishna also participated. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told reporters it was wrong to allow the tech billionaires to discuss regulation with senators behind closed doors.

Schumer invited the “biggest monopolists in the world to come and give Congress tips on how to help them make more money” and closed it to the public, said Hawley. “It’s like a giant cocktail party for Big Tech.” Warren told reporters the tech industry is the only sector in the economy to get special treatment through something like the Communications Decency Act Section 230, which allows the platforms to avoid liability. She said her bill with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., which would establish a new tech regulator and licensing regime (see 2307280063), will provide “serious regulation” for tech giants.

Hawley on Tuesday discussed the introduction of his bill with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. The Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act would ban the use of AI to “generate materially deceptive content falsely depicting federal candidates in political ads to influence federal elections.” Klobuchar mentioned the bill’s introduction at two separate hearings on AI Tuesday (see 2309120070).

Schumer called Wednesday’s forum “an amazing and historic experience,” noting that more than 60 senators attended. He said the “diverse” group of participants was able to speak “unvarnished.” Everyone agreed that the government has a role in regulating AI, he said. Hawley told reporters that executives support the concept of regulation, but when it comes down to specific proposals, they balk. Schumer hasn’t put a “single significant” piece of tech legislation on the floor in the past two years, said Hawley.

It’s important for us to have a referee, just as you have a referee in a sports game,” Musk told reporters. “The games are better for it. The players play by the rules, play fairly.” It’s important for “similar reasons” to have a regulator, to ensure companies take actions that are “safe and in the interest of the general public,” he said: Wednesday’s discussion may “go down in history as very important for the future of civilization.” Zuckerberg and Pichai didn’t answer press questions when leaving the Capitol.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told us he understands the desire to hold such meetings in public. “I generally lean that way, but I think the closed meeting was more informal, and I hope it leads to more open meetings,” he said. “But this is not a bad step, at this moment.” Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., told reporters Schumer’s forum will help increase the urgency of AI issues before the committee. She noted she plans to introduce legislation to address issues related to deepfakes. Asked about the criticism against holding the forum in a closed setting, Cantwell said Commerce plans to hold more public hearings on AI. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., told reporters: The senators who organized the forum wanted to “create an environment where people were feeling comfortable to speak. It’s been a thoughtful conversation.”

Senate Privacy Subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he hopes every executive who attended the forum will testify under oath before his subcommittee. Wednesday’s forum “is not designed to produce legislation,” he said. “Our subcommittee will produce legislation.” He said he’s in agreement with Hawley, the subcommittee’s top Republican, on moving forward with legislation. Blumenthal discussed the need to implement an AI licensing regime during his hearing Tuesday.

Not a lot can be learned when speakers are given three minutes to present at a forum, said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. Asked if he’s confident this process is going to lead to any meaningful legislation on AI, Kennedy told reporters, “No. I’ve been here seven years,” and Congress hasn’t passed a meaningful bill to protect online privacy. “Do we have some sort of overarching regulatory framework that we’re close to agreeing on that addresses the dangers and potential of AI?” he asked. “In my judgment, no.”