When Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, was first elected to Congress in 1992, the internet was only just becoming mainstream. If lawmakers had even heard of AI, it wasn’t anything positive. “It wasn’t easily embraced at the time,” Eshoo says. “The mere mention of it was that it was menacing and that it would destroy jobs.”
Thirty years later, AI seems to be all anyone can talk about, and on Capitol Hill, Eshoo, now 80, is often leading the conversation. Since January, she has served as co-chair of the Congressional AI Caucus, a bipartisan group dedicated to educating policymakers on the technological, economic, and social impact of AI. She says her main focus has been on convening subject experts to help policymakers develop a road map for how the U.S. should regulate AI, hosting leaders such as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman in May and Anthropic co-founder Jack Clark in January for briefings with lawmakers and their staff.
Eshoo has also been writing laws to regulate AI. The overnight success of AI-powered ChatGPT triggered a frenzy among policymakers to draft new AI laws, including bipartisan legislation she co-introduced with Representatives Ted Lieu and Ken Buck in June to create a national commission focused on regulating AI. The proposed “public trusted body” would bring together experts from civil society, government, industry, and labor, tasked with making recommendations and developing a comprehensive framework for AI regulation.
“I didn’t move from an AI position at Google and then land in Congress,” Eshoo says. “We need to bring people in to educate us. If you don’t understand AI and its reach, how can you make a decision about any legislation that comes before you?”
She has also introduced legislation this year to require the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response to study potential threats of AI on U.S. biosecurity, including how it could be used by malevolent actors to develop novel pathogens like SARS-CoV or the Ebola virus. Additional legislative goals include a bill to establish a national AI research resource to provide access to data and tools needed to develop safe and trustworthy AI—and to hold large social media platforms accountable for their algorithmic amplification of harmful content that leads to offline violence.
AI regulation is still in its early stages, but Eshoo sees a consensus among lawmakers to come up with a policy framework: “AI holds enormous promise and we want that innovation and that promise to be realized, but we also need to address what the experts are telling us are perils.”
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