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Hill staffers chart path for AI legislation

Feb 13, 2024
Three people seated in chairs on a stage

Maria talks with Rob Hicks and John Beezer at the State of the Net conference. Photo: Courtesy Internet Education Foundation

AI action is heating up on Capitol Hill, key congressional staffers told Maria at the State of the Net conference Monday.

Why it matters: Lawmakers have a short window to move on AI legislation before the 2024 elections kick into high gear.

All eyes are on committee-level work after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's AI Insight Forums helped set the stage for legislation.

State of play: John Beezer, senior advisor to Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, said Schumer is preparing an AI position paper that could serve as the "starting gun" in a matter of weeks.

  • Schumer's office did not respond to a request for comment.
  • In the House, lawmakers are waiting for Speaker Mike Johnson and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to green-light an AI working group, which could happen in a matter of weeks.
  • Rep. Jay Obernolte's legislative director Rob Hicks: "It would be a cross-section of members from different committees, because AI is not one thing — it's a tool. And when you talk about legislating AI, it's about what it means for each specific issue area."

Meanwhile, Commerce continues to prioritize AI and workforce issues, which Beezer called "the clearest, most obvious thing that we need to be working on right now."

  • As for Cantwell's vision for an AI workforce bill modeled after the GI bill, Beezer said the committee is still trying to get a handle on how the labor market will be impacted by the technology.
  • "There are some arguments that it will create so many new opportunities and that there'll be lots of new jobs and everything will be fine, but I don't think that's guaranteed, and I think we need to be prepared for it," he said.

Of note: Beezer and Hicks both said the CREATE AI Act to authorize and fund the National AI Research Resource is the priority.

  • Beezer said it has the best prospects among the dozens of AI bills circulating in Congress.

Yes, but: Appropriators are fielding a myriad of funding requests, and there's little appetite to spend money, especially in the House.

The big picture: AI and privacy efforts are increasingly becoming interlinked, especially in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

  • States are making progress on both fronts, advancing and passing legislation that can help inform federal efforts but also inject familiar disagreements over preemption.
  • "It certainly gives a sense of urgency to a lot of what we've been thinking about, and my boss would say he would preempt state activity on AI," Hicks said, warning against fractured treatment of data across states.

Beezer said he sees AI and privacy legislation playing out in three equally possible ways:

  1. Congress decides AI can't be addressed without privacy and advances a bill with limited privacy components, such as requiring authorization to use sensitive personal data to train models: "I think that's a thing that needs to be addressed immediately."
  2. Congress decides AI is so transformative that lawmakers put together a package so big they decide to throw in comprehensive privacy while they're at it.
  3. Congress does nothing. 'The logic on that is that's what we always do."
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