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A.I. Regulation Is in Its ‘Early Days’

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Regulation of artificial intelligence has been a hot topic in Washington in recent months, with lawmakers holding hearings and press conferences, and the White House on Friday announcing a voluntary AI safety effort by seven tech companies.

But a closer look at this activity raises the question of how relevant it is in shaping policy around rapidly evolving technology.

The answer still doesn’t make much sense. Lawmakers and policy experts said the U.S. was just the beginning of a long and potentially arduous road to AI rulemaking. With White House hearings, meetings with tech leaders, and speeches on the introduction of AI legislation, it’s too early to predict even a rough outline of regulations to protect consumers and contain the risks technology poses to jobs, the spread of misinformation, and security.

“This is still early days and no one knows what the law will look like yet,” said Chris Lewis, chairman of consumer group Public Knowledge, which is calling for an independent body to regulate AI and other tech companies.

The U.S. still lags far behind Europe, where lawmakers this year are preparing to enact an AI law that would impose new limits on what is considered the riskiest uses of technology. In the US, by contrast, there remains much disagreement about how best to handle technology, and many US lawmakers are still trying to figure it out.

That’s a good fit for many tech companies, policy experts say. While some companies have said they welcome regulations on AI, they also say they oppose strict regulations like those being created in Europe.

Here, we summarize the current state of AI regulation in the United States.

The Biden administration is conducting impromptu hearing tours with AI companies, academics and civil society groups. The effort began in May when Vice President Kamala Harris met at the White House with the chief executives of Microsoft, Google, OpenAI and Anthropic to urge the tech industry to take safety more seriously.

Representatives of seven tech companies appeared at the White House on Friday to announce a set of principles to make their AI technology more secure, including third-party security checks and watermarking AI-generated content to stop the spread of misinformation.

Many of the announced practices were already in place or were going to work at OpenAI, Google, and Microsoft. They do not represent new regulations. Promises of self-regulation also fell short of the expectations of consumer groups.

“When it comes to big tech, voluntary efforts are not enough,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, deputy director of the electronic privacy information center, a privacy group. “Congress and federal regulators must put in place meaningful and enforceable guardrails to ensure that the use of AI is fair and transparent and protects individual privacy and civil rights.”

Last fall, the White House introduced a blueprint for the AI ​​Bill of Rights, a set of guidelines for consumer protection through AI technology. Also, the guidelines are not regulations and are not enforceable. White House officials said this week they were working on an executive order on AI, but did not provide details or timing.

Lawmakers have been the most vocal about regulating AI, some of whom have introduced legislation on the technology. Their proposals include creating an agency to oversee AI, taking responsibility for AI technologies that spread disinformation, and requiring licensing of new AI tools.

Lawmakers have also held public hearings on AI, including a hearing in May with Sam Altman, chief executive of OpenAI, which develops the chatbot ChatGPT. Some lawmakers are considering other regulatory ideas during hearings, such as nutrition labeling to inform consumers of the risks of AI.

The bill is in its early stages and so far has not gained the support it needs to move forward. Last month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, announced a month-long process for enacting an AI bill that includes an educational session for lawmakers in the fall.

“In many ways, we are starting from scratch, but I believe Congress can meet this challenge,” he said in a speech at the Institute for Strategic and International Studies at the time.

Regulators are beginning to take steps to crack down on some of the problems arising from AI.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into OpenAI’s ChatGPT, asking for information about how the company protects its system and how chatbots can harm consumers by creating false information. FTC Chairman Rina Khan said she believes the FTC has sufficient powers under consumer protection and competition laws to crack down on AI companies’ misbehavior.

“Given the normal schedule for Congressional action, waiting for Congressional action is not ideal,” said Andrés Sawicki, a law professor at the University of Miami.

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