OpenAI CEO Sam Altman called on the U.S. government to regulate AI during a US Senate hearing on Tuesday. Altman told lawmakers the sooner they set up rules for generative AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the better, as the technology continues to advance at a rapid pace.
“OpenAI believes that regulation of AI is essential, and we’re eager to help policymakers as they determine how to facilitate regulation that balances incentivizing safety while ensuring that people are able to access the technology’s benefits. It is also essential that a technology as powerful as AI is developed with democratic values in mind,” Altman explained. “OpenAI is committed to working with U.S. policymakers to maintain U.S. leadership in key areas of AI and to ensuring that the benefits of AI are available to as many Americans as possible. We are actively engaging with policymakers around the world to help them understand our tools and discuss regulatory options.
Altman came to Washington, D.C. to testify with IBM chief privacy officer Christina Montgomery and NYU professor Gary Marcus to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. But Altman was clearly the center of attention for most of the packed room, as he is arguably the face of generative AI following the explosive impact of ChatGPT, OpenAI’s generative AI chatbot, over the last six months. The trio explained how generative AI functions, with Altman focusing on ChatGPT and how OpenAI teamed up with Microsoft to release it.
The congressional conversation comes a couple of weeks after he and other generative AI leaders met at the White House with President Biden and Vice President Harris, and higher-ups in the administration to discuss the same topic. Altman met with several dozen lawmakers the evening before the hearing for dinner, which likely helped make the room a bit friendlier during the actual hearing. This isn’t the first time generative AI and ChatGPT have been discussed on Capitol Hill. Congressman Jake Auchincloss asked ChatGPT to write a speech he gave on the floor of the House of Representatives back in January.
The questions hit on many potential misuses of the technology, from medical misinformation and political propaganda to autonomous weaponry that could function without any human supervision. The senators also made frequent callbacks to social media and how lawmakers ignored it until it was too late to easily regulate. Altman acknowledged those points but said generative AI should be considered separately from social media and that there should be a new government agency to formulate rules on how to license the more powerful AI systems. He also laid out some of the potential upsides of AI as a tool for solving the biggest problems facing humanity, including climate change and systemic poverty.
“We need to have a conversation about how we want to regulate AI. We need to make sure that AI is used for good, not for harm,” Altman said. “We need to be careful about how we use AI, but I’m optimistic that AI can be a force for good in the world.”
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