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Fault lines emerge on AI Senate report

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Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is adamant about keeping efforts to pass AI bills bipartisan, but the response to the new report he spearheaded is exposing divisions over how to regulate the technology.

Why it matters: With a tight schedule and the election looming, there's little time to address the details the report failed to tackle.

What they're saying: Alondra Nelson, a former White House official and one of the architects of the Biden administration's AI policies, said the report is "striking for its lack of vision" and seems to ignore the executive branch's work.

  • The Biden administration has centered issues like equity and climate change in its regulatory approach, which are a hard sell for Hill Republicans.

Yes, but: Documents that mirror the Biden administration's approach, whether the AI bill of rights or executive order, are likely to get stuck in Capitol Hill purgatory.

Friction point: Groups like Fight for the Future and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law criticized what they called the report's meandering and vague language on preventing AI-exacerbated harm, like discrimination and bias in housing, surveillance and employment.

  • The report stresses enforcing existing laws, but black box algorithms can make it difficult to know whether companies are following those laws.
  • Specific bills designed to address transparency and accountability didn't make it into the roadmap.

As examples, Nelson pointed to the Algorithmic Accountability Act and the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act.

In the Senate, Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz said before seeing the report that he was "very confident it will be aimed in the wrong direction," grouping Democrats on and off the Hill together as pursuing a heavy-handed regulatory approach that will stifle innovation.

  • An aide to Sen. Gary Peters, Chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said he'll continue to focus on "using AI to improve government services while ensuring safe and responsible innovation."

In the House, Speaker Mike Johnson says he wants to avoid the European Union's approach of what he views as overregulation.

  • Johnson's office declined to comment on the report.
  • House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ranking Member Frank Pallone said in separate statements that they're glad the report acknowledged the need to pass a comprehensive data privacy bill.
  • Schumer, though, declined to specifically endorse CMR's bill, the American Privacy Rights Act.

What we're watching: The annual defense policy bill could provide a vehicle to move some AI legislation across the finish line.

  • "We've already talked to the Armed Services Committee; they think the defense bill, which will come out later this summer, is a perfect place to do some of the things," Schumer said.
  • Schumer said he's also planning to start collaborating with Johnson "in the very near future."

Our thought bubble: The White House approach to AI has centered around President Biden's executive order, which is focused on adapting the federal government to use AI for efficiency, getting AI experts hired and ensuring AI doesn't introduce new biases or security concerns into public sector work.

  • That differs from the Senate AI working group's approach, which zeroed in on funding research for cutting-edge innovation and putting an American stamp on AI policy to keep up with Europe and compete with China.
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