Schumer unveils new AI framework as Congress wades into regulatory space

Experts warn AI could pose a serious threat.

June 21, 2023, 12:58 PM

Congress is in a race against the clock to regulate artificial intelligence and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is unrolling the early-stage steps that the chamber will take to try to get a handle on the rapidly evolving technology.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, poses potential peril to humankind, science and technology experts warned last month, writing in a statement posted on the Center for AI Safety's website that "mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war."

Now, Congress is wading into the regulatory space, with leaders from both parties leading efforts to educate their members on and draft legislation around regulating artificial intelligence.

Schumer outlined early steps Wednesday for how Congress can rise to the challenge of regulating the industry before it's too late.

"We have no choice but to acknowledge that AI's changes are coming, and in many cases are already here. We ignore them at our own peril," his prepared remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies read. "Many want to ignore AI because it's so complex. But when it comes to AI, we cannot be ostriches sticking our heads in the sand. The question is: what role does Congress and the federal government have in this new revolution?" Schumer said.

Schumer's SAFE Innovation framework, unveiled Wednesday, outlines four pillars that he hopes will guide future bipartisan collaboration on legislation governing AI: security, accountability, protecting our foundations and explainability. Lawmakers, Schumer said, should focus their efforts on ensuring U.S. security pertaining to AI and accountability to ensure issues like misinformation and bias are addressed. AI should also uphold democratic values, and lawmakers should understand why it chooses certain outputs, Schumer said.

The framework is not legislative text, and it's not clear how long it will take for Congress to begin putting together legislative proposals. There has not yet been any legislation introduced in Congress to deal with regulating AI, though a bicameral group of lawmakers introduced a proposal earlier this week that would create a blue-ribbon commission to study AI's impact.

Schumer is encouraging his committee chairs to work with top committee Republicans to begin drafting regulatory proposals.

To aid in that effort, he's calling in the experts. In addition to the new framework, Schumer announced plans Wednesday to convene a series of forums this fall that will bring together industry leaders to discuss with one another and educate members on AI.

The goal, Schumer said, is to put Congress in a position to regulate before AI presents serious issues. It's a relatively new approach for Congress, which typically reacts to issues as they bubble up.

"By the time we act, AI will have evolved into something new," Schumer will say "AI is evolving so quickly -- but also has such complexity -- that a new approach is required."

Schumer isn't the only leader convening experts to discuss the subject. Earlier this year, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hosted two AI experts from MIT for an all-member session, Fox News reported. The Senate heard from one of those professors, Antonio Torralba, at a separate session earlier this month.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center and Preserve in Palo Alto, Calif., June 19, 2023.
President Joe Biden speaks at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center and Preserve in Palo Alto, Calif., June 19, 2023.
Susan Walsh/AP

The administration is also turning its attention to AI.

President Joe Biden appeared at a roundtable event focused on AI in California on Tuesday, describing artificial intelligence as something that has "enormous promise and its risks."

The president added that next month, Vice President Kamala Harris will lead a meeting of "civil rights leaders of America, consumer protection groups and civil society to continue our administration's ongoing engagement on AI."

ABC News' Fritz Farrow contributed to this report.