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Tech leaders want ‘balanced’ AI regulation in private Senate meeting

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Tech leaders want ‘balanced’ AI regulation in private Senate meeting

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Tech leaders called for regulation that balances innovation and safety as the Senate conducted one of the many “insight forums” to inform potential rulemaking. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) invited leaders in the AI space, including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Nvidia president Jensen Huang, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and X chair Elon Musk to a bipartisan AI Insight Forum. 

The forum was closed to the public and media, but some tech leaders prepared remarks or spoke to reporters outside the event. 

Zuckerberg said in prepared remarks that “Congress should engage with AI to support innovation and safeguards.” He said there are two defining issues for AI: safety and access. 

Meta builds safeguards into its generative AI models and is deliberate about how to roll out AI-powered products. But the company also believes powerful AI models are “going to be an increasingly important driver of opportunity in the future,” Zuckerberg said.

“We think policymakers, academics, civil society, and industry should all work together to minimize the potential risks of this new technology, but also to maximize the potential benefits,” Zuckerberg said. “If you believe this generation of AI tools is a meaningful step forward, then it’s important not to undervalue the potential upside.”

Zuckerberg touted Meta’s “open sourcing” of its Llama 2 model to provide access to AI models. 

The Meta CEO noted balancing regulation and innovation is important so that the US continues to lead the AI race, something he’s brought up before.

On the other hand, X’s Musk, who started an AI company recently, told reporters outside the forum that the government needs a federal AI oversight agency.

Reuters reports Musk told reporters that “it’s important for us to have a referee” so that companies do not run AI products unchecked.

The New York Times reports several tech leaders remarked on the importance of regulating the technology, with OpenAI’s Altman saying he believes policymakers want “to do the right thing” and is impressed with how fast the government wants to create rules around the technology. 

Schumer, who previously called on peers to “pick up the pace” around AI regulation, said the forum was important to understand more of the technology and told reporters after the forum that the US cannot rush rulemaking. 

But while tech companies welcomed the opportunity to speak behind closed doors to policymakers, others expressed concern about the private nature of the forum. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized the forum, saying it was a way for tech giants to influence policies.

Ramayya Krishnan, dean of the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, tells The Verge that other AI Insight Forums have to be public.

“We need more public hearings so we have more transparency into how the regulations are being crafted,” Krishnan said. “I hope other forums are open to the public.”

Concerns over regulatory capture — when an industry can dictate how laws are made — rose as Big Tech companies involved in AI called for regulation, potentially leaving behind smaller companies in their wake. 

Other lawmakers, including Warren and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), also sent a letter to large AI companies, demanding answers about the working conditions of the human workers who help train and moderate AI models.

US lawmakers have had a busy week talking about regulating AI. The day before the AI Insight Forum, the Senate’s Judiciary Committee held a hearing about AI legislation. Congress has held fairly regular hearings on various topics around AI regulation for months. The White House also got voluntary commitments from AI companies to develop AI responsibly.

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