Young, others seek to combat China’s influence in AI policy roadmap

The United States should invest billions of dollars into artificial intelligence (AI) to check China’s influence on the technology, U.S. Sen. Todd Young of Indiana and three others said Wednesday.

“Our goal is to maintain U.S. leadership in this field. We lead the way right now,” Young said.

He’s one of four members of the Bipartisan Senate AI Working Group, which released a policy “roadmap” for congressional committees to use in devising both AI innovation incentives and regulations. It’ll take at least $32 billion annually, the group announced. That’s not including yet-to-be-announced defense spending estimates.

Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said U.S. involvement would ensure that the technology would incorporate U.S. values, like privacy.

With “general direction” and “regulatory certainty” out to AI developers and users, Young said, the country could “unlock” AI’s potential and “harmonize” with ally countries.

“We’ll share (U.S.) standards as it relates to privacy, consumer protection, openness, transparency: all, notably, things that are not associated with the Chinese Communist Party,” Young continued. “(There’s a) geopolitical dimension to this which cannot be overlooked.”

The funding levels were recommended by the National Security Commission on AI and would ramp up across several years: $8 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, $16 billion in FY 2025, and $32 billion in FY 2026 and thereafter.

The plan

The group held nine forums on eight topics, ranging from innovation and intellectual property protection to election security and privacy rights.

Innovation: The group recommended money be allocated to various research and develop efforts, unfunded sections of the CHIPS and Science Act, a new National AI Research and Development Institute, and more. It also suggested committees write bills that leverage public-private partnerships, help AI startups and so on.

Workforce: Americans are worried about how AI will affect their jobs. So the group suggested plenty of stakeholder engagement, training, up-skilling and other ways to “combat disruptive workforce displacement.”

Tailoring existing laws: The policy roadmap asks committees to find and address gaps in how existing laws apply to AI, with special attention on critical infrastructure, financial service providers, the housing sector and the federal procurement process. The document also highlights concerns about AI-generated child sexual abuse material and AI fraud, and asks lawmakers to consider a ban on AI social scoring. It also delves into health care.

Elections: The bipartisan group agreed on no specific recommendations but encourage committees and AI developers to consider watermarking and digital content provenance on AI-generated or -altered election content.

Liability and privacy: AI’s “varying degrees of autonomy,” can make it harder to assign legal liability to AI companies and users, the group said. It suggested committees look at clarifying or adding to current liability standards and backed a “strong comprehensive federal data privacy law to protect personal information.”

Intellectual property and copyright: The group recommended legislation on transparency, data sets that contain copyrighted or sensitive personal data, and “protecting against the unauthorized use of one’s name, image, likeness, and voice, consistent with First Amendment principles.” It also suggested reviewing copyright and patent reports on AI’s impact and a public education campaign about AI.

Risks: The group endorsed a “capabilities-focused risk-based approach,” which could include developing uniform risk tests, auditing standards, cyber-security standards and more. Research and development legislation could also help AI developers, deployers and users identify and manage risks.

National Security: The group pushed some agencies to develop AI or digital engineering career pathways and training programs, and to work with AI developers to prevent cutting-edge AI technology from leaking sensitive or classified information.

“As Russia and China push their cyber agenda of censorship, repression, and surveillance, the AI Working Group encourages the executive branch to avoid creating a policy vacuum that China and Russia will fill, to ensure the digital economy remains open, fair, and competitive for all, including for the three million American workers whose jobs depend on digital trade,” the document concludes.

What’s next

Senate Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer of New York State emphasized a balance between encouraging “transformational innovation” and minimizing harms to the American people.

“Congress can’t and won’t solve every challenge AI presents today, but we can lay down a base of smart, bipartisan policy proposals, guided by both urgency and humility,” Schumer said. “And we can do so this Congress.”

But don’t expect a big AI bill.

Lawmakers plan to bring narrow proposals to the floor as they’re ready, according to Schumer. Several pieces of legislation are already moving.

Though it’s Senate-led, the group appeared optimistic the House would get on board.

“The Senate can’t make a law on its own. So I plan to meet with (House) Speaker (Mike) Johnson in the very near future to see how we can make this bipartisan effort bicameral,” Schumer said. “And we’ve talked a little bit about it here and there. And I think he’s very interested in doing that. Because after all, this is not and should not be a partisan issue.”

Young concurred.

“I’ve been in touch with (California Republican) Congressman (Jay) Obernolte over in the House who’s working very hard on this effort, along with a number of colleagues in a bipartisan way,” Young said. “He’s been encouraging, and I think this will be highly well received by our colleagues in the House.”

The group hoped to help all Americans.

“We want what AI can do for the quality of life, to actually be beneficial to every single citizen in our country,” Rounds said.

Lawmakers in Indiana are also getting serious about AI.

They approved legislation last session requiring disclaimers on altered election materials and criminalizing synthetic nonconsensual nude images. They’ll also take a closer look at the topic in an upcoming interim study committee.

By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz – The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.