Gates, Musk, Zuckerberg Descend on DC for Closed-Door Senate AI Hearing
Gates, Musk, Zuckerberg Descend on DC for Closed-Door Senate AI Hearing

By Nathan Worcester

Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg are among the big names from Big Tech slated to appear at the Senate’s closed-door AI Insight Forum on Sept. 13.

“Both parties recognize that AI is something we can’t ignore, but we need a lot of help understanding the best way forward,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a Sept. 7 announcement of the closed-door hearing.

Mr. Schumer, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) are the bipartisan leaders of the forum. Mr. Rounds and Mr. Heinrich are co-chairs of the Senate AI Caucus, in which Mr. Young also participates.

Mr. Musk of Twitter/X and SpaceX, Meta’s Mr. Zuckerberg, and Microsoft founder Mr. Gates will be joined by other top figures in the tech world, including Sam Altman of OpenAI and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet.

“It’s an effort to make sure that our colleagues are getting information directly from some of these leaders,” Mr. Rounds said in a conversation with Mr. Heinrich at a Washington Post Live event on Sept. 12, as reported by MeriTalk.

In addition, Charles Rivkin of the Motion Picture Association, a film trade organization, will be present. Mr. Rivkin’s appearance comes during an ongoing, months-long strike by members of the Writers Guild of America. The striking writers are concerned in part that ChatGPT and comparable tools could replace them.

Other attendees include Democratic donor Tristan Harris of the Center for Humane Technology. Mr. Harris has previously cautioned Congress that “conspiracy theories” may spread if technology is not regulated more strongly, specifically citing work by Alex Jones and InfoWars.

Another Democratic mega-donor, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, is also expected at the event, as is Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.

May report on AI from the Department of Education maintains that the agency “firmly rejects the idea that AI could replace teachers.”

Building Knowledge

In his Sept. 7 comments previewing the meeting, Mr. Schumer said the forum is going to be just “the first of a series of forums that will give our committees the knowledge base and thought insights to draft the right kind of policies.”

“It will be a meeting unlike any other that we have seen in the Senate in a very long time, perhaps ever: a coming together of top voices in business, civil rights, defense, research, labor, the arts, all together, in one room, having a much-needed conversation about how Congress can tackle AI,” he added.

“One of the questions that I’m asking myself is, what’s the threshold at which you begin to regulate something? There are going to be applications for AI that are very low risk, and we don’t want to stifle innovation, but there are also going to be applications that have very real-world consequences,” Mr. Heinrich said at the Washington Post Live event.

Lawmakers and agencies in the U.S. and across the world are scrambling to address AI in the wake of headline-grabbing developments over the past year, such as the debut of the generative AI service ChatGPT.

The star-studded Senate meeting occurs less than a week after a Senate energy committee hearing dedicated to AI and the Department of Energy.

It will take place on Capitol Hill the same day as a House hearing led by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). That hearing, held under the auspices of the oversight committee, will have a similar focus on AI and agencies, though with more of a skew toward the defense bureaucracy.

“Strict guardrails are needed to protect Americans’ privacy and prevent them from being victimized by algorithmic bias. This hearing is a great opportunity to discuss how AI can best be safely integrated into federal agency operations in a manner that enhances national and homeland security, streamlines service delivery, and make government more efficient,” Ms. Mace said.

Concern over algorithmic bias and, more generally, race has been a significant theme in the Biden administration’s response to AI innovations over the past year.

The May report from the Department of Education called algorithmic discrimination an AI risk “of the highest importance.”

Ultra-realistic AI robot Ai-Da poses in front of a painting it made during the press preview of the London Design Biennale 2023 at Somerset House, central London, on June 1, 2023. (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden Meets Tech Leaders, Activists

At a June meeting in San Francisco, President Joe Biden convened with tech executives and other leaders and activists, including Mr. Harris.

In a statement released prior to that event, a White House spokesperson said the experts who gathered were “outspoken on the impact of AI on jobs, children, bias and prejudice,” among other topics.

“We need innovation on guardrails so we can find creative and new ways to protect our kids, our privacy, prevent racial bias, prevent doomsday scenarios,” Mr. Schumer said on Sept. 7.

“If you’re going to have a platform that is going to drive a car or be in charge of a physical system, we need to understand the risks involved there, and we need to be able to test those products and know with a great deal of certainty how they’re going to behave,” Mr. Heinrich said at the Washington Post Live Event.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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