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Despite many briefings and hearings, lawmakers have a long way to go to regulate AI

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Today is the last in a series of closed-door briefings for senators on artificial intelligence. It's part of a congressional effort to try to move fast to regulate the emerging technology. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer issued this warning earlier this summer.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: We have no choice - no choice - but to acknowledge that AI's changes are coming and in many cases are already here. We ignore them at our own peril.

SUMMERS: Schumer has introduced legislative framework for AI law. But he's just one of many lawmakers trying to regulate what's the tech equivalent of a high-speed train. Joining us now is NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Hey there.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So we have seen Congress sort of pick up the pace this summer in its efforts to regulate artificial intelligence. Where do things stand now?

GRISALES: Well, despite those briefings, plus congressional hearings, there's still a very long way to go. Some members are actually going back to school to try to understand this technology better. Add to that a pretty bad congressional record regulating emerging technology. And just recently - yesterday, in fact - Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley highlighted this during a Judiciary subpanel hearing.

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JOSH HAWLEY: So I think the real question is, will the Senate actually act? Will the leadership in both parties - both parties - will it actually be willing to act? We've had a lot of talk, but now is the time for action.

GRISALES: And Hawley has been part of a group of senators who have tried to regulate social media, for example, but to no avail. So the track record is not great.

SUMMERS: OK. I mean, Senator Hawley raised the question. And I know we've heard Senate Majority Leader Schumer say over and over again...

GRISALES: Right.

SUMMERS: ...That on this issue, Congress cannot afford to fail. So what is Schumer doing to prevent that from being the outcome?

GRISALES: Yeah, he's personally met with more than a hundred experts in the field. He's put together this series of three closed-door briefings, including the first such classified briefing on this topic. And then he plans to launch a series of forums this fall on hot-button AI issues like national security and privacy. And then he's also appointed a bipartisan group of senators to work with the rest of the Senate to develop an AI law. But he's admitted even that could take months. And this summer, he launched a so-called SAFE Innovation Framework. This will serve as a basis for this legislation. It focus on - focuses on regulating AI without stifling innovation. It instills guardrails to head off threats to national security and democracy or even the economy. But he's one of many members working on this and will have more than 500 other members to convince to get on board.

SUMMERS: That's right. So what are some of the other proposals that other members are considering?

GRISALES: We got a sneak peek into some possibilities during the same Judiciary subpanel hearing yesterday. This was led by Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. And the lawmakers heard from an industry executive and professors about how badly regulation is needed. And they seem to agree that some sort of new agency or department is needed. And it needs to have teeth, such as AI police. One witness professor - this is University of Montreal professor Yoshua Bengio, who's considered one of the original AI godfathers - suggested that perhaps counterfeiting humans through AI should be treated as a crime, much like counterfeiting cash is under federal law.

SUMMERS: OK. And before I let you go - seems like a lot of this action is going on in the Senate. What about the House?

GRISALES: Right. We're seeing individual members in the House working on this issue. But if we look at House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, he's already pushing back on this idea of creating an agency to regulate AI. So once again, a reminder that Congress is very far apart on this issue as well.

SUMMERS: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLVR SONG, "BACK N FORTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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