Suddenly it seems like everyone wants to regulate AI. The European Union is on the verge of enacting a comprehensive AI Act that’s intended to mitigate risks and protect individual rights. In the United States, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer foresees legislation possibly within months.
I’m in favor of regulation, too. But I’m very concerned about whether we’re on a trajectory toward helpful and effective regulation. At the moment, few regulators have sufficient understanding of AI’s potential benefits and harms to craft effective laws. The only thing more dangerous than knowing too little is knowing too little without understanding just how little that is.
I’m glad regulators are seeking to learn more about AI. This is a wonderful step! But I see a dangerous situation emerging in which regulators speak with a number of academic and business leaders and come away thinking they understand things well enough. At best, only a few people in the world have the information to answer questions such as:
- How are AI-enabled paid online ads affecting elections in various countries right now?
- Is any social media company contributing to genocide or similarly dire events in the world?
- What types of AI-generated content are being produced (by the recent wave of chatbot companies and others), and how do they influence people?
Answering questions like these requires far greater visibility into large AI companies than we currently have. In many countries, publicly traded companies are required to make substantial financial disclosures. Companies may find these requirements intrusive or burdensome, but the resulting transparency builds trust in the financial system. Similarly, the countries of the world need to compel large AI companies to disclose their activities in detail.
While the details of any required disclosure need to be worked out, I can imagine, for example, requiring large companies to analyze, or allow independent organizations to analyze, how much content of different flavors (such as pro/con various social issues) they deliver to different subsets of their audience (such as users in a particular region or demographic group). By presenting aggregate results, this can be done in a way that preserves individual privacy. Information like this would enable regulators to draw a straight line between the technology and events in the world. Without it, governments won’t know enough to craft sound regulations.
AI is making society richer, and governments have an important role in maximizing its benefits and minimizing its harms. But until there is greater transparency, it will be difficult for lawmakers to recognize the technology’s impacts in either direction. It will be difficult to prevent lobbyists from steering legislation to block competitors or otherwise further their interests in ways that don’t align with society’s.
I have deep respect for democratically elected legislators and the important work they do. I hope that all of us in AI — especially the many engineers and scientists who want to make the world better for everyone — can engage to help regulators play a constructive role in AI’s advance.
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