Congress unlikely to pass sweeping new AI laws, key GOP senator says


Instead, the Indiana Republican anticipates the Senate will equip federal agencies with the people and other resources needed to implement laws already on the books in a world that is increasingly being transformed by algorithms and artificial intelligence.

“Many of these laws we have merely need to be applied to current and to future circumstances,” Young said. “That’s going to require ongoing vigilance from the agencies.”

Young is part of the small, bipartisan club Schumer has assembled, along with Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), to break through congressional gridlock and put guardrails on a powerful new technology that Washington has come to see as an existential threat.

That could lead Congress to establish a new office in the White House to tackle artificial intelligence or perhaps expand the authority of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Young suggested. But the debate between creating a new agency or leaning on existing ones has yet to be settled. “That’ll be a really important decision point,” he said. “I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for the chamber to pursue ambitious and comprehensive AI legislation that protects both American national security and workers, while also tamping down the technology’s considerable risks related to disinformation, bias, intellectual property theft and more. Young’s comments suggest even the principal players in Schumer’s Senate coalition have not agreed on the need for a sweeping bill.

The four lawmakers set out to develop “a high-level plan, a coordinated effort” for identifying threats posed by artificial intelligence and a methodology for countering them, Young said. But committees, he continued, will then address specific concerns in areas like education, agriculture and defense, and he expects they will focus on empowering federal agencies.

The Senate is slated to hold forums on specific issues like copyright, privacy and “guarding against doomsday scenarios” following the August recess. Young said a trio of recent briefings designed to bring lawmakers up to speed on the basics of artificial intelligence have softened colleagues who were fearful of the technology.

“There has been a reset over the course of the briefings, where many of my colleagues heard about some of the amazing things we can do with artificial intelligence, so it’s given them a sense of balance as we approach this,” he said.

Maintaining bipartisan support for eventual AI action will be difficult, especially heading into an election year, but Young said a lesson he learned during last year’s passage of major semiconductor legislation can be applied this time around as well: make it about national security.

“This is absolutely about competing with China,” Young told POLITICO Tech, adding that the U.S. is up against Beijing’s “substantial investments” in developing algorithms, educating engineers and building next-generation semiconductors. “That’s the holy trinity of artificial intelligence.”

Annie Rees contributed to this report.

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