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The US Senate is inching forward on a plan to regulate artificial intelligence, after months of seeing how ChatGPT and similar tools stand to supercharge — or disrupt— wide swaths of society.
But despite outlining broad contours of the plan, senators are still likely months away from introducing a comprehensive bill setting guardrails for the industry, let alone passing legislation and getting it signed into law. The deliberate pace of progress contrasts with the blistering speed with which companies and organizations have embraced generative AI, and the flood of investment into the industry.
The Senate’s plan calls for briefing lawmakers on the basic facts of artificial intelligence over the summer, before beginning to consider legislation in the following months, even as some senators have begun to pitch proposals.
The efforts reflect how, despite urgent calls by civil society groups and industry for guardrails on the technology, many lawmakers are still getting up to speed.
To help educate members, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday announced a series of three senators-only information sessions to take place in the coming weeks.
The closed-door briefings will cover topics ranging from AI’s current capabilities and competition in AI development to how US national security and defense agencies are already putting the technology to use. The latter session, Schumer said, will be the first-ever classified senators’ briefing on AI.
“The Senate must deepen our expertise in this pressing topic,” Schumer wrote in a letter to colleagues announcing the briefings. “AI is already changing our world, and experts have repeatedly told us that it will have a profound impact on everything from our national security to our classrooms to our workforce, including potentially significant job displacement.”
Schumer had earlier kicked off a high-level push for AI legislation in April, when he proposed shaping any eventual bill around four principles promoting transparency and democratic values.
The information sessions are expected to wrap up by the time Congress breaks for August recess, according to South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, one of three other senators Schumer has tapped to lead on a comprehensive AI bill.
By that point, Rounds told reporters Wednesday on the sidelines of a Washington conference, there may be “lots of different ideas floating” but not necessarily a bill to speak of.
Schumer, Rounds and the other leading lawmakers on the AI working group — New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich and Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young — haven’t settled on how to coordinate various legislative proposals yet.
Options include forming a select committee to craft a comprehensive AI bill, or “splitting out and having lots of different committees come up with different pieces of legislation,” Rounds said.
The AI hype has produced high-profile hearings and scattershot policy proposals. Last month, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, wowing lawmakers by asking for regulation and by giving a technical demonstration to enthralled members of the House the evening before.
Sen. Michael Bennet has introduced legislation to create a new federal agency with authority to regulate AI, for example. And on Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley unveiled his own framework for AI legislation that called for letting Americans sue companies for harms created by AI models.
Rounds told reporters Schumer has not set a timeframe for coming up with AI legislation, adding that the current goal is to allow ideas to “melt for a while.”
But he predicted that with AI’s expected impact on many agencies and industries, it would be impossible not to foresee a wide-ranging and open legislative process reflecting input from many sources, akin to how the Senate crafts the annual spending package known as the National Defense Authorization Act.
“You bring in all of these ideas, and then you very quietly start to meld this bill together, kind of behind the scenes in a way,” he said. “You go through a committee process in which you deliver a bill that says this could pass, and then you allow other members to come in and offer their amendments to it as well. That has worked well year-in and year-out for the NDAA.”