California lawmakers hold high hopes for new congressional AI task force – OCRegister

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The theory of artificial intelligence has been around for a long time — it’s older than many members of Congress — but federal leaders are just getting started on efforts to rein in the rapidly growing technology.

Co-chaired by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Los Angeles, and Rep. Jay Obernolte, R-Hesperia, the new group seeks to create guardrails against potential threats posed by AI — like election interference, weapons manipulation and intellectual property theft — while ensuring the U.S. remains the world leader of this rapidly evolving technology.

Lieu is a computer scientist, and Obernolte is the only member of Congress with a master’s degree in AI, making them a natural fit to lead the team. They are joined by 11 Republican and 11 Democratic representatives from across the country and varying policy backgrounds, including five fellow Californians.

And although the 118th Congress is on track to be the least-productive one in 50 years, Obernolte says the task force is committed to getting things done.

The goal, he said, is to create a detailed regulatory framework plan for AI by the end of the year.

“That’s a defined work product and a defined due date, which we are not going to miss,” said Obernolte.

That framework is intended to guide legislation through the 119th Congress, convening in January 2025. However, Obernolte also intends to introduce and weigh in on bills this year to more immediately address the most pressing issues with AI.

“I hope that we’ll be able to roll the ball at least a little bit in the current Congress.”

More than 200 AI-related bills have already been introduced, but as Congress has been tied up with more pressing matters — like passing funding bills to keep the lights on — the legislation has had little opportunity to move forward, Lieu said.

And tech industry leaders, said Obernolte, want to see “durable” regulation, which would enable them to make long-term investments rather than have to pivot every time there’s a new crop of lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

But that “durable” legislation is still a long way off. The task force had its first meeting on March 12 and its second on March 22, both focused on agenda setting.

At each, the potential for AI interference in the presidential election was top of mind for most members, said the co-chairs.

Democrats were deeply alarmed when AI-generated audio imitating President Joe Biden made robocalls in January seeking to dissuade people from voting for him in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary. Republicans have reason to fear that the same tools could be used against them come November.

“Mitigating the effects of AI interfering with our elections is really important because fundamentally we are a democracy and a constitutional republic,” said Lieu. “And for that to work, we cannot have deep fakes confusing and tricking voters.”

And Rep. Michelle Steel, a Seal Beach Republican who also sits on the task force, is acutely concerned about the threat of China’s influence on AI. China already exploits emerging technologies to harm American interests, she said, and artificial intelligence could turbocharge Chinese spy tactics and intellectual property theft.

“My primary approach will be finding a proper balance between American intellectual property and supporting innovation, without allowing excessive regulations to become a barrier to AI development,” said Steel.

“We have to be a world leader on AI, but we have to stop bad foreign actors who are seeking to undermine the U.S. … stealing our intellectual property and infiltrating our cybersecurity infrastructure,” she said.

Lieu, for his part, is concerned with how AI could be used to manipulate America’s weapons.

“I want to make sure that our nuclear weapons can never be launched by AI without a human in the loop,” he said.

One existing bill that the task force has a keen eye on is the CREATE AI Act, which would provide $1 billion in annual funding to establish the nation’s largest free AI research resource. The goal is to “democratize” access to the computational and data resources needed to carry out cutting-edge AI research, instead of keeping them confined to employees at major tech companies.

In October, Biden issued an executive order directing the National Science Research Foundation to launch a pilot National AI Research Resource program using existing funding. So far, NAIRR allows researchers to access resources, including datasets and models, from governmental departments such as the Department of Defense, Department of Education and NASA and to apply for access to advanced computing.

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In all, artificial intelligence is a vast field that is growing more complex by the day, said Lieu. Therefore, effectively promoting and constraining it will require significant new legislation, he said.

“It’s highly unlikely that Congress is going to pass a single 5,000-page bill that addresses 57 AI topics,” he said. “This is going to be an iterative process over multiple years, where you have different bills every year focused on different aspects of AI.”

While getting any bill passed through both houses is a challenge, Lieu shares Obernolte’s optimism that the task force’s bipartisan nature will enable it to effectively shepherd legislation to the president’s desk.

“AI is not a person, it’s not sentient, it is a tool,” said Lieu. “Tools can be used for both good and bad purposes, and there’s nothing inherently partisan about a tool.”

Obernolte said the task force was intentionally created with Republican and Democratic co-chairs and members to “avoid the gridlock” that has gripped recent Congresses as control of the two houses flips back and forth between parties.

“Whatever the task force reports is going to require bipartisan support to implement,” he said.

Despite the scale of the task at hand, Lieu was strikingly hopeful about the task force’s ability to meet it.

“Everyone on the task force is extremely motivated and interested and knowledgeable about AI,” he said. “I look forward to working with the members of the task force as well as both the Republican and Democratic caucus members in the committee’s jurisdiction to try to navigate our way through this very large, complicated issue of artificial intelligence.”

Other California members include Reps. Ami Bera, D-Sacramento; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Darrell Issa, R- Temecula; and Sara Jacobs, D-San Diego, along with Lieu, Obernolte and Steel.

Democratic members include Reps. Yvette Clarke of New York, Bill Foster of Illinois, Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, Don Beyer of Virginia, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Haley Stevens of Michigan, Valerie Foushee of North Carolina and Brittany Pettersen of Colorado.

And Republicans include French Hill of Arkansas, Michael Cloud of Texas, Neal Dunn of Florida, Ben Cline of Virginia, Kat Cammack of Florida, Scott Franklin of Florida, Eric Burlison of Missouri, Laurel Lee of Florida and Rich McCormick of Georgia.

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