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Sep 8, 2023, 12:39pm EDT
tech

Silicon Valley shrugs as Musk, Altman descend on DC for AI forum

Reuters/Elizabeth Frantz
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The Scene

Next Wednesday’s artificial intelligence summit will open to low political expectations in Washington and indifference in Silicon Valley, despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s success in bringing Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and Mark Zuckerberg to the Capitol.

Some of the invited attendees aren’t envisioning big results and haven’t received many details, according to people familiar with the gathering, making it possibly more of a show than a meeting that produces any substantive outcomes.

All senators are invited to attend the closed-door meeting to hear from AI tech leaders like Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang, and Hugging Face CEO Clément Delangue. The morning session with top executives will be moderated by Schumer and Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota.

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Leaders of the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, a top civil rights group, and the Motion Picture Association have also been invited in what will be the first of nine such forums.

“I’m hoping that we will see additional experts and leaders added to ensure that, in addition to the technology leaders, we also have sufficient balance with folks who are outside of the industry,” said Maya Wiley, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “For us, the issues that are posed by AI are civil rights issues.”

In June, Schumer announced that he would be hosting “AI Insight forums” with tech leaders, AI critics, and others as he pushes to speed up Congress’ work on legislation to set up guardrails around the rapidly advancing technology.

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Kadia’s view

While tech companies are scrambling to one-up each other on AI feats, there’s another AI race taking place at the Capitol: The Senate and House are both sprinting to understand AI, even if they’re not working together, yet.

Months before Schumer announced the Sept. 13 forum, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries hosted Altman in the Capitol, where he briefed members on the technology. Musk visited House GOP leaders weeks after McCarthy was sworn in as speaker and months before meeting with Schumer.

When Schumer unexpectedly dropped his AI framework earlier this year, members on the House AI Caucus were scrambling to get more details about it. House members weren’t invited to next week’s forum and senators weren’t at House briefings on AI earlier this year. Each chamber has created separate bipartisan working groups.

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Congress isn’t known for its speed when it comes to regulating technology — see the internet, and whatever happened to crypto regulation? So, these grand gestures in the form of Big Tech names gracing the halls of the Capitol are possibly the goal in it of themselves. As one House aide told Semafor about the upcoming meeting, “media attention is very much the point of some of what’s going on with AI right now.”

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Reed’s view

Almost every leader of a significant AI company has been through Washington at least once already. And each meeting between lawmakers and tech executives gets a little less exciting. Even in its home state, Silicon Valley barely noticed when California’s governor signed an executive order on AI earlier this week.

Part of the reason is that it’s so unlikely we’ll see some kind of comprehensive AI legislation that addresses the latest wave of the technology.

Nobody is quite sure how generative AI is going to affect the world. Some people out here are convinced it’s mostly hype and that the promised consumer use cases, like intelligent virtual assistants, aren’t going to arrive any time soon.

If Silicon Valley isn’t totally sure where this is all headed, how are people in D.C. supposed to create new laws that govern it?

It’s also important to separate the debate on generative AI from the discussions about automation software that can lead to discrimination and bias. The Biden administration’s blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights has already addressed these issues surrounding a technology that has been used in full force for years now.

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Room for Disagreement

Regulation is coming — and figures like Altman say they welcome it. Even the libertarian-leaning Musk has warned about the dangers of killer AI. In fact, the field is one of the rare cases where tech companies were calling for rules even before lawmakers. Whether that results in a better chance for legislation is unclear.

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Notable

  • For more details on Schumer’s efforts, check out his June speech where he laid out his framework and vision for the AI forums.
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