What You Need to Know About the Senate Meetings With AI Leaders

October 9, 2023

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AI is back in the headlines as the US Senate meets with leaders in the tech industry. What was talked about, and what will these talks lead to? While the talks are largely shrouded in mystery, here is what the press and public have learned from remarks outside the chambers.

What is the Purpose of the Meetings?

The meetings, which were not open to the press or public, have seen lots of speculation about their contents. What is known is that the Senate meetings were primarily used as a way for lawmakers to learn more about AI to get started on making guardrails for the technology. 

There have been talks for years about how the government should regulate new technologies like AI, especially as they are increasingly quickly produced. The most significant hold-up to any progress in these regulations has been because legislators feel uninformed about how the tech works and how they should ensure it’s safe without preventing technological progress. The Senate meeting was a chance for Senators to learn from the experts. 

Who Was There?

The group of 22 AI executives included big names like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, as well as less well-known executives like Sundar Pichai, Alphabet CEO. It wasn’t just CEOs and executives; ethicists, academics, and consumer advocates with experience in the field were asked to join. Maya Wiley and Janet Murguía brought in a human and civil rights perspective, while Randi Weingarten and Tristan Harris brought examples of the dangers reported by users of AI. 

It’s also essential to know that only about 60 Senators were present at the meetings. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer organized the event and was largely a bi-partisan body. While there is little information on what Senators were there, a few spoke to the public about their experiences. Despite going into the meetings expecting not to learn much, Senator Cynthia Lummis said she found the event extremely helpful. Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell and Senator Mike Rounds both reportedly felt little concern after the meetings about the dangers of AI. 

Concerns

These recent Senate meetings have drawn criticisms, from activists to Senators, for a few issues. The first issue that many have is that the discussions were closed to the public. This lack of transparency has some activists worried that AI leaders have more to concerns to raise than they’ve shared thus far. The other issue, introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren, was that the meetings were not a discussion. Congressional attendees at these Senate meetings were reportedly not allowed to ask questions to executives or talk among themselves about what they were hearing. She said, “Closed-door [sessions] for tech giants to come in and talk to Senators and answer no tough questions is a terrible precedent for trying to develop any kind of legislation.”

What Will Come Out of Senate Meetings?

When posed the question of whether the government should step in to help regulate AI, reportedly every panelist raised their hands. This sentiment was echoed throughout the Senate meetings as the guests reported the potential dangers of AI. Senators told reporters that it would be a while before any change happens, and when it does, it will be a battle that change should be expected. Some speculate that the Senate committees should be the places to watch for this change, as multiple committees have jurisdiction over the issue. 

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