The tone of congressional hearings involving tech industry executives in recent years could be described as adversarial. Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and other tech luminaries have all been ostracized from their companies by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
But on Tuesday, Sam Altman, chief executive of the San Francisco startup OpenAI, testified before members of a Senate subcommittee and largely agreed on the need to regulate the powerful AI technology developed inside his company. What and others like Google. and Microsoft.
In his first testimony before Congress, Mr. Altman urged lawmakers to regulate artificial intelligence as committee members demonstrated an evolving understanding of the technology. The hearing underscored the deep unease felt by technologists and the government about AI. Possible disadvantages. But the worry did not reach Mr. Altman, who had a friendly audience among the subcommittee members.
The appearance of Mr. Altman, the 38-year-old Stanford University dropout and tech entrepreneur who made his name as a leading figure in AI The boyish-looking Mr. Altman ditched his usual pullover sweater for a blue suit and tie. And did the jeans business. for a three-hour hearing.
Mr. Altman also spoke about his company’s technology at a dinner with dozens of House members Monday night, and met privately with several senators before the hearing, according to people who attended the dinner and meetings. It offered a loose framework for managing what happens next with rapidly developing systems that some believe could fundamentally change the economy.
“I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go pretty wrong. And we want to be vocal about that,” he said. “We want to work with the government to prevent this from happening.”
Mr. Altman made his public debut on Capitol Hill as interest in AI grows. Tech giants have poured efforts and billions of dollars into what they say is a transformative technology, even amid growing concerns about the role of AI. Spreading false informationjobs and a day of murder Corresponds to human intelligence..
This has put the technology in the spotlight in Washington. President Biden said this month A meeting with a group of chief executives “There’s a lot of potential and a lot of risk in what you’re doing,” of AI companies. Top Congress leaders have also promised AI regulations.
That members of the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Judiciary had not planned any grilling for Mr. Altman, it was clear that they had had Mr. Altman appear with them in private meetings and at hearings. Thank you for your consent. Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, repeatedly referred to Mr. Altman by his first name.
Mr. Altman was joined by IBM’s chief privacy and trust officer, Christina Montgomery, and Gary Marks, a well-known professor and frequent critic of AI technology.
Mr. Altman said his company’s technology could destroy some jobs but also create new ones, and that “it’s going to be important for the government to figure out how we want to mitigate that.” Echoing an idea proposed by Dr. Marks, he proposed the creation of an agency that would issue licenses for the development of large-scale AI models, safety regulations and tests that would allow AI models to be released to the public. Must pass before being done.
“We believe the benefits of the tools we’ve deployed so far outweigh the risks, but ensuring their security is critical to our work,” Mr. Altman said.
But it was unclear how lawmakers would respond to the call to regulate AI. Congress’s track record on tech regulations is grim. Dozens of privacy, speech and security bills have failed over the past decade because of partisan bickering and fierce opposition from tech giants.
The United States has led the world on privacy, speech and child protection regulations. It also lags behind AI regulations. Legislators in the European Union Rules are set to be introduced for the technology later this year. And China has created AI laws that comply with its censorship laws.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Senate panel, said the hearing was the first in a series to learn more about the potential benefits and harms of AI, ultimately “writing the rules” for it.
He also acknowledged Congress’s failure to introduce new technologies in the past. “Our goal is to expose and be accountable for these new technologies to avoid some of the mistakes of the past,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Congress failed to seize the moment on social media.”
Subcommittee members proposed an independent agency to oversee AI. Laws that force companies to disclose how their models work and how they use data sets. and antitrust laws to prevent companies like Microsoft and Google from monopolizing new markets.
“The devil will be in the details,” said Sarah Myers West, managing director of the AINow Institute, a policy research center. He said Mr. Altman’s proposals for regulations do not go far enough and should include limits on the use of AI in policing and the use of biometric data. He noted that Mr. Altman showed no signs of slowing down development of OpenAI’s ChatGPT tool.
“It’s ironic to see a currency of concern about harm from people who are increasingly being commercialized as responsible for those harms,” Ms. West said. .
Some lawmakers still showed up at the hearing. Persistent differences in technical know-how Between Washington and Silicon Valley. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, repeatedly asked witnesses whether the speech liability shield for online platforms like Facebook and Google also applies to AI.
Mr. Altman, calm and unassuming, tried several times to draw a distinction between AI and social media. “We need to work together to find a whole new approach,” he said.
Some members of the subcommittee also expressed reluctance to come down hard on an industry that holds great economic promise for the United States and that competes directly with adversaries such as China.
Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, said the Chinese are developing AI that “reinforces the core values of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese system.” “And I’m concerned about how we develop AI that supports and strengthens open markets, open societies and democracy.”
Some of the toughest questions and comments about Mr. Altman came from Dr. Marks, who noted that OpenAI is not transparent about the data it uses to develop its systems. He cast doubt on Mr. Altman’s prediction that new jobs would be replaced by AI.
“We have unprecedented opportunities here but we also face a perfect storm of corporate irresponsibility, widespread deployment, lack of proper regulation and inherent unreliability,” Dr Marks said.
Tech companies have argued that Congress should be wary of any broad rules that lump different types of AI together. At Tuesday’s hearing, IBM’s Ms. Montgomery called for an AI law similar to the proposed regulations in Europe, which outline different levels of risk. He emphasized principles that focus on specific uses, rather than regulating the technology itself.
“At its core, AI is just a tool, and tools can serve a variety of purposes,” he said, adding that Congress “must enact proper regulation for AI.”