The tone of congressional hearings involving tech executives in recent years can best be described as adversarial. Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and other tech giants have all been dressed down on Capitol Hill by lawmakers upset by their companies.
But on Tuesday, Sam Altman, chief executive of San Francisco start-up OpenAI, testified before members of a Senate subcommittee and largely agreed with them on the need to regulate more powerful AI technology being developed within his company and other companies like Google. and Microsoft.
In his first testimony before Congress, Mr. Altman appealed to lawmakers to regulate artificial intelligence. The investigation underscores the deep unease felt by technologists and the government about the potential harms of AI. But Mr. who had a friendly audience among the subcommittee members. That restlessness didn’t last for Altman.
A 38-year-old Stanford University dropout and tech entrepreneur, Mr. Altman’s appearance earned him a reputation as a leading figure in AI. Boyish looking Mr. Altman did business in his usual pullover sweater and jeans, dressed in a blue suit and tie. For a three-hour hearing.
Mr. Altman 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. He provided a loose framework to manage what happens next with fast-growing systems that some believe will fundamentally change the economy.
“If this technology goes wrong, I think it could go very wrong. We want to be vocal about it,” he said. “We want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.”
As interest in AI exploded, Mr. Altman made his public debut on Capitol Hill. Even amid growing concerns about AI’s role in spreading misinformation and one day matching human intelligence, tech giants have poured effort and billions of dollars into what they say is a transformative technology.
This has put the technology in the spotlight in Washington. “What you’re doing has enormous potential and enormous risk,” President Biden said this month in a meeting with a group of chief executives of AI companies. Top leaders in Congress have also committed to AI regulations.
Members of the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and Law, Mr. Clearly not planning a rough grill for Altman, they were Mr. Altman thanked them for their personal meetings and for agreeing to appear at the trial. Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, Mr. He repeatedly referred to Altman by his first name.
Christina Martin, IBM’s chief privacy and trust officer, and Gary Marcus, a well-known professor and frequent critic of AI technology, testified that Mr. joined Altman.
Mr. Altman said his company’s technology could destroy some jobs and create new ones, and that it’s important for “the government to figure out how we want to reduce that.” He proposed creating an agency that would provide licenses, safety regulations, and tests for AI models to be passed before they could be released to the public.
“We believe the benefits of the tools we’ve used so far outweigh the risks, but ensuring their safety is vital to our work,” said Mr. Altman said.
But it’s unclear how lawmakers will respond to the call to regulate AI, given Congress’s track record on technology regulations. Dozens of privacy, speech and security bills have failed over the past decade due to partisan battles and fierce opposition from tech companies.
The United States lags behind the world in regulations on privacy, speech, and protection for children. It also lags behind in terms of AI. Lawmakers in the European Union are set to introduce rules for the technology later this year. And China has made AI laws consistent with its censorship laws.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Senate committee, said the hearing was the first in a series to learn more about the potential benefits and harms of AI and eventually “write the rules” for it.
He also acknowledged that Congress had failed to introduce new technologies in the past. “Our goal is to devalue and hold those new technologies accountable to avoid some of the mistakes of the past,” said Mr. Blumenthal said. “Congress has failed to meet this moment on social media.”
Subcommittee members recommended an independent agency to oversee AI; rules forcing companies to disclose how their models work and the data sets they use; and antitrust rules that prevent companies like Microsoft and Google from monopolizing a new market.
“The devil will be in the details,” said Sarah Myers West, executive director of the AI Now Institute, a policy research center. She said Mr. Altman’s recommendations for regulations don’t go far enough, and should include limits on how AI is used in policing and the use of biometric data. He noted that Mr. Altman showed no sign either.
“It’s very ironic to see a posture about concern for harm caused by people who are quick to release for commercial use a system responsible for those harms,” Ms West said.
Some lawmakers in the hearings still show a continuing gap in technology knowledge 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 would also apply to AI.
Mr. Altman, both calm and restless, has repeatedly tried to draw a distinction between AI and social media. “We need to work together to find a completely new approach,” he said.
Some subcommittee members were reluctant to so strongly regulate an industry that holds great economic promise for the United States that competes directly with adversaries such as China.
The Chinese are developing AI that “reinforces the core values of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese system,” said Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. “And I care about how we develop AI that strengthens and strengthens open markets, open societies, and democracy.”
Mr. Some of the tougher questions and comments about Altman came from Dr. Marcus, who noted that OpenAI is not transparent about the data it uses to build its systems. New jobs will replace those killed by AI, Mr. He was skeptical of Altman’s prediction
“We have unprecedented opportunities here, but we’re also facing a perfect storm of corporate irresponsibility, rampant deployment, inadequate regulation and inherent unreliability,” Dr. Marcus said.
Tech companies have argued that Congress should be careful with any broad rules that lump different types of AI together. At Tuesday’s hearing, IBM’s Ms. Martin called for AI legislation similar to Europe’s proposed regulations, which outline different levels of risk. He called for rules that focus on specific applications rather than regulating the technology itself.
“At its core, AI is a tool, and tools can serve different purposes,” he said, adding that Congress should take a “precise regulatory approach to AI.”