Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hopes to kickstart federal AI legislation with a major DC conclave that prioritized the industry’s Goliaths
Vienna, Vir., the suburban homebase of Seekr Technologies, sits 20 minutes from Washington, D.C. A few times a week, CEO Pat Condo heads into the District to talk up the startup’s software, which uses artificial intelligence to assess online content’s credibility, and attend more general meetings about the technology with other Beltway firms, conversations “about identifying human trafficking through video,” he said, “or understanding the ethics of AI.”
And while Wednesday is a landmark day for Condo’s industry on Capitol Hill, Condo won’t be in attendance. There, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will host a major closed-door summit for all 100 senators that will host executives from the largest companies developing AI technology, including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, OpenAI’s Sam Altman and the CEOs of Alphabet and Microsoft.
The conclave is seen as a significant step toward potential new regulation around the emerging, blossoming industry. But restricting the gathering’s guest list to the industry Goliaths leaves proverbial Davids like Condo worried that the Alphabets and Microsofts will help write new rules to primarily benefit themselves.
“How about picking 15 or 20 other companies that are all independent of them and see what they would come up with or what their point of view is?” Condo asked. “I can guarantee you that, in most cases, you’ll get a group of companies trying to create an equal playing field versus a monopoly that ensures continued dominance for the next 20 years.”
In the last 18 months, interest in artificial intelligence has exploded as billions of investment dollars poured in and tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT captured public imagination. Warnings about the technology’s possible misuse have piled up, too, and Washington is increasingly taking notice of the burgeoning industry. In May, Altman testified at a Senate hearing, followed by a White House announcement two months later that Altman’s OpenAI and a slew of other major companies had agreed to a set of basic guidelines that require the businesses to add watermarks to AI-generated content and allow external audits, among other rules.
The Biden administration has continued to add more businesses to that list—IBM, Nvidia and six others officially signed on this week—but those guidelines rely on the companies to self-regulate themselves. Congress hasn’t enacted any major legislation around AI, though several bills have been introduced. Schumer is hoping to light a fire under his colleagues and hopes to use the summit on Wednesday as an ignition, planning a series of similar events throughout the fall.
“Legislating on AI is certainly not going to be easy,” Schumer said last week in a speech on the Senate floor. “In fact, it will be one of the most difficult things we’ve ever undertaken, but we cannot behave like ostriches sticking our heads in the sand.”
In the same address, Schumer promised to solicit a “diverse” and “balanced” field of experts for the summit and subsequent meetings. In reality, he may be already falling short on that promise with that guest list limited to the industry’s biggest corporations. (Schumer declined to comment for this story and hasn’t made the complete list of attendees public.)