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Capitol Hill hearings to take a closer look at guardrails for artificial intelligence

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Congress is taking a closer look at regulations on artificial intelligence.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah, a bipartisan group of House members met last night with Sam Altman, the CEO of the company behind ChatGPT. He'll testify later today for the first time on Capitol Hill. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he's crafting what he hopes will be comprehensive AI guardrails to address growing concerns about the emerging technology.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: I want to do this in a bipartisan way. I don't think this is a political issue. This is a national issue, a country issue, a human issue.

FADEL: This week, both Senate and House committees will hold several hearings on AI, and lawmakers say there's plenty more to come.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us this morning. All right, this week's hearings - what are they going to be discussing?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Right. Today, we're going to hear from Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, which is the company behind ChatGPT. He'll testify before a Senate Judiciary subpanel in a hearing focused on how Congress could regulate this technology. I was outside the room where he met with members for dinner last night behind closed doors. Lawmakers afterward were saying that he told them that AI is a powerful tool that can make society better globally, grow the economy and improve lives, and he also warned against going overboard with regulation. So we could touch on those same themes before the Senate panel today. It's led by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Missouri Republican Josh Hawley. I took a Senate train ride with Hawley recently, and he told me he's worried about privacy issues.

JOSH HAWLEY: I do think that we've got to give Americans some basic digital privacy rights, and we've got to stop the tracking and the buying and selling of private information without users' consent. I mean, that's just critical. And now we have AI on top of that.

GRISALES: It's a reminder Congress has not even been able to address these privacy issues related to social media. And Hawley told me he's also worried about election security, and that's part of a long list of worries.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, but Congress has - what word am I looking for? - oh, lackluster...

GRISALES: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: ...A lackluster history when it comes to regulating AI. So what are the challenges here?

GRISALES: There are many. Congress is playing catch-up. For example, the European Union is years ahead in crafting AI law. And then throw in a bitterly divided Congress, and that does not bode well. I talked to law professor Ifeoma Ajunwa at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill about this.

IFEOMA AJUNWA: We have seen gridlocks in Congress, you know, passing so many laws that we would have thought were nonpartisan issues. So I do believe that the White House, which has access to executive orders and the (inaudible) may actually be able to move the needle quicker.

GRISALES: And we did see the Biden White House recently roll out some AI initiatives, while Congress has historically missed the regulatory windows on emerging tech, like the internet and social media. And Ajunwa said another issue is there's a real lack of joint experience in both law and computer science on Capitol Hill for both members and staff.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, but yet we're seeing this race on Capitol Hill as members try to make a legislative mark here, especially as several congressional panels have jurisdiction on AI.

GRISALES: Yes. Today, the Senate Homeland Security Committee will also hold a hearing. They're looking at how federal agencies are using AI. And the chair, Michigan Senator Gary Peters, told me it's one of many. He's planning an AI hearing every work period. And tomorrow, a House Judiciary subpanel will look at AI and copyright law. And this is as members such as California's Ted Lieu - he filed a resolution earlier this year written by ChatGPT - that's a first for Congress - pushing for AI regulation.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Claudia Grisales - talk again soon.

GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.