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AI Insight Forums in review

Illustration of a large dictionary with AI embossed on the front

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's AI Insight Forums kicked off with much fanfare this fall, promising new involvement and oversight from Congress.

Our thought bubble: It's the end of the year, and we're not that much closer to finding out how Congress is actually going to handle AI than we were six months ago.

  • But there are some broad emerging themes we can point to that show where the regulatory conversation is headed, based on our observations and reporting.

Catch up fast: The forums focused on the following topics: AI innovation; copyright and IP; use cases and risk management; workforce; national security; guarding against doomsday scenarios; AI's role in our "social world"; transparency, explainability and alignment; and privacy and liability.

What they're saying: We spoke with a handful of people who participated in the forums or had clients who did, and most agreed that they were helpful, boosted momentum for legislation and got people together who wouldn't normally be in the same room. Beyond that, tangible results aren't here yet.

  • Joseph Hoefer, AI policy lead at Monument Advocacy: "The Insight Forums didn't solve the wildly complex policy challenges revolving around AI, but the working group deserves credit for bringing together stakeholders to foster the dialogue."
  • "It remains to be seen how efficiently committees can capitalize and deliver substantive text under the truncated 2024 calendar," Hoefer added.
  • NAACP president Derrick Johnson: "We hope that protections will immediately be put in place before the 2024 election cycle.… Under no circumstances should AI be allowed to participate in electioneering."
  • Huey-Meei Chang, a senior China specialist at Georgetown's Center for Security and Emerging Technology: "If nothing else, the experience underscored the complexity of the challenges we face."
  • Anna Puglisi, a CSET senior fellow, said it was hard to tell what lawmakers want to ultimately do based on their questioning.

The other side: "It's disappointing that it hasn't come to much more than conversation at this point," UnidosUS public policy senior director Laura MacCleery said.

  • "A number of bills have been introduced, but it doesn't feel as though the energy has been sustained, especially when you compare progress in the U.S. to the EU."
  • Misalignment among the major companies has stymied consensus and been "paralyzing" for Congress, she added.

Of note: Although Schumer tried to have a variety of interests represented at each forum, for some it was still exclusive because, they said, the industry itself isn't diverse.

  • "There was the absurdity of this much power in such few hands, and all the ways that our communities of color and other groups are still unlikely to be in the room for these kinds of decisions," said MacCleery, who attended the first forum featuring tech's biggest players.

What we're watching: We've got our eyes on the following areas of tension, consensus or concern as Congress continues work on AI.

  • Immigration: Many panelists agreed that the U.S. will have to tweak its immigration laws to allow for more AI talent to live and work in the U.S., but immigration vexes Congress even without a pressing technology concern.
  • Money: Congress needs to appropriate and dole out millions to relevant (mostly understaffed and underfunded) agencies to carry out even what has already been asked of them on AI.
  • Committee jurisdiction: All committees are going to want a piece of the pie on AI legislation, and we predict petty jurisdictional battles, especially because AI touches, well, everything.
  • Open vs. closed source AI: Smaller open source AI companies still feel boxed out by larger closed source model companies, and lawmakers are definitely still figuring out what the difference even is, let alone which type is "better." (It's dense! We agree!)
  • Doomsayers vs. realists: We still can't really tell who's winning regulators' hearts and minds between AI doomsayers who say AI could wipe out humanity and those who say it's much more important to focus on realistic, shorter-term harms. Stay tuned!
  • Regulatory capture risk: It's important to remember where a lot of this conversation started: with Sam Altman, the CEO of the best-known AI company, OpenAI, asking Congress for regulation. Lawmakers will still have to prove they are not catering to the loudest and most monied voices in the debate when drawing up bills.

The bottom line: "Any opportunity to present robust debate and discussion to our elected officials seems helpful," Chang said. 

  • "The only way we are going to manage the risks and opportunities presented by AI — and other emerging technologies — is if we consider all possibilities and consider multiple perspectives."
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