Mar 15, 2024 - Politics

Generative AI bills populate Minnesota's Legislature

Illustration of old parchment with the words, "We the AI."

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Minnesota lawmakers have introduced more than a dozen bills over the last two years aimed at reining in generative AI and related technologies, according to an analysis shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: Rapid AI innovation and a federal regulatory vacuum have given state legislatures the impetus to create laws of their own, Axios' Ryan Heath writes.

The big picture: Nearly all of the state legislatures currently in session across the nation are considering AI-related bills.

  • As of early February, there were more than 400, software industry group BSA found — a six-fold increase compared to a year ago.

State of play: In Minnesota, legislators are looking to build on last year's law on "deepfakes" by barring candidates convicted of misusing AI to influence an election from running again.

  • Other related bills introduced during the current two-year session cover digital privacy, the use of algorithms to target underage social media users, and facial recognition.

Zoom in: Another proposal, authored by DFL Rep. Dan Wolgamott, would prohibit state colleges and universities from using generative AI "as the primary instructor for a credit-bearing course."

  • A working group would be formed to "develop policies and procedures for the safe and ethical use" of the technology in higher education.

What they're saying: DFL Sen. Erin Maye Quade, who is carrying a kids' digital privacy bill, told Axios that the power — and risks — of AI necessitate that lawmakers look at everything from its application in fields like health care to the threat of misinformation.

  • "I just don't think we fully grappled with the fact that we are entering a time in which we have technology that [is] almost so realistic that people can't tell the difference between reality and fiction. It's a really dangerous thing for humanity," she said.

Yes, but: The key, she added, will be to pass meaningful regulation that "also doesn't prohibit the use of AI in important ways."

Zoom out: Congress is also looking at AI legislation. State lawmakers working on the issue acknowledge that the most effective regulation will come from the federal government

  • But they say that states must act in the absence of federal action.

The other side: The tech industry association Chamber of Progress supports proactive legislation in areas where there's a "clear potential for civil rights violations" with government use — think algorithmic sentencing leading to discriminatory outcomes in the criminal justice system — senior director of technology policy Todd O'Boyle told Axios.

  • But they think lawmakers should hold off for now in private sector use "where there is no clear line" and take a more holistic — versus tech-targeted — approach to issues like discrimination in housing.
  • The group also opposes Maye Quade's social media bill, citing concerns about a lack of clarity around what constitutes "harmful" content.
  • That language, its lobbyists argue, will lead platforms to "over moderate" by taking more content related to addiction, sexuality, and other sensitive topics out of the mix. That, they say, will "end up doing more harm than good by exacerbating the vulnerabilities of marginalized young people."

What we're watching: The discussion isn't just focused on limiting the technology's use.

  • DFL Sen. Ann Rest convened an informational hearing last month on how generative AI could be used to make government more efficient.

Zoom in: The next frontier

One challenge policymakers face is how to get — and stay — ahead of a fast-changing technology.

Case in point: GOP Sen. Eric Lucero has introduced a "neurodata rights" bill to ban "unauthorized access to or manipulation of an individual's brain activity."

Why it matters: Technological advancements have fueled the creation of implantable devices that help patients with debilitating disabilities or diseases express thoughts or control movement.

Threat level: Lucero is worried about what happens when that technology goes mainstream.

  • "If brain activity can be captured, well, that begs the question, who owns that information?" he said. "And was that capturing of brainwaves done with consent?"

The bottom line: "It's much more difficult to retroactively put controls in place before a technology has been adopted than it is to put in place safe controls and have the discussions before the technology is in wide use," Lucero said.


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