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Schumer’s AI Forum Divides Republicans

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said Thursday that they have the ears of Republican leadership on AI efforts, despite Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., becoming the latest to criticize Schumer’s Wednesday forum on AI regulation (see 2309130061).

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Graham, who didn’t attend, told us the forum was like legislators trying to solve alcohol-related problems by meeting with beer distributors. “I’m not a fan of the idea of the social media companies telling us what to do with AI until we get them under control,” he said. “They’re completely out of control.” Rubio didn’t attend, either, saying, “I didn’t find the panel to be interesting, in terms of [tech executives'] views on it,” he said: “It didn’t surprise me that people who run big companies are in favor of regulation because they’re the only ones who can afford to deal with regulators.”

The forum's goal was to gather as much information as possible from the business community, said Rounds, who with Schumer sat down with reporters in the Senate Press Gallery on Thursday to discuss key takeaways from Wednesday’s event. Rounds, who joined Schumer’s AI working group with Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., told reporters that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been “very supportive” of their efforts. Schumer said he has kept House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., up to speed on AI efforts in the Senate and called the speaker “very encouraging.”

Both Schumer and Rounds said election security is one of the first AI-related issues Congress should tackle. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., recently told us election security is a key issue for his panel (see 2309070059). “We're going to have to do everything we can to make sure that those elections absolutely are fair and that misinformation is identified,” said Rounds.

Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Chris Coons, D-Del.; and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced legislation Tuesday that would ban the use of AI to “generate materially deceptive content falsely depicting federal candidates in political ads.” It’s “modest,” “common sense” legislation, Hawley told us Thursday. The key is to write legislation not “dictated by tech moguls,” said Hawley, who spoke with reporters outside of Wednesday’s forum but didn’t attend. He was one of the most vocal opponents, along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to the closed-door session.

One concept that has been gaining momentum is to create a licensing regime for AI products and services. Graham and Warren introduced the Digital Competition Protection Commission Act, the first bill to envision an AI licensing regime. Senate Privacy Subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has expressed interest in the concept. Hawley, Blumenthal’s Republican counterpart on the subcommittee, told us a licensing regime could be “sensible” if it provides transparency into a company’s operations.

The issue with licensing AI technology in the U.S. is that the government will have no control over companies using products in China, India or around the world, said Rubio: That could put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. Schumer said the most important thing from Wednesday’s forum is that everyone agreed the government needs to regulate in some form. Regulating AI will inevitably involve dealing with privacy issues, he said: “You can't deal with AI without dealing with certain privacy issues. And some of the privacy issues that affect social media and things like that will probably be wrapped up in what we do.”

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday appointed Chief Information Officer Eric Hysen as the department’s first chief AI officer. Hysen will “promote AI innovation and safety within the department” and advise department leadership on AI issues, said DHS. The department announced new measures to ensure the safety and trustworthiness of AI technologies DHS uses. Warner on Thursday wrote President Joe Biden urging him to increase the federal government’s tech workforce in order to address AI challenges. The administration should build on “previous government initiatives to draw in engineers, product managers, and other digital policy experts to revamp the government’s approach to technology,” said Warner.