Schumer Says AI Presents Both a ‘Serious Problem’ and an Economic Boon

(Bloomberg) -- Artificial intelligence is the next technology that could get support — and new guardrails — from the US government, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Senate Democrats are accelerating discussions about how to respond to the surge in AI technology in a way that replicates a bipartisan act meant support US semiconductor manufacturing, which was signed into law last year. Schumer said that could be the model for assuring US supremacy in AI and countering Chinese advancements.

“Like we helped move the nation forward on chips in a good way that will help American jobs, the American economy and the American people, we’re going to try to do the same type of stuff on AI,” Schumer said in a brief interview.

Artificial intelligence has been a focus of research for years, from Silicon Valley to the Pentagon and globally. But the November debut of OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT sent competitors rushing to release their own versions — and critics warning that the products risk regurgitating inaccurate and harmful results, and could lead to the development of AI systems that can not be easily controlled.

Schumer said lawmakers are speaking with “a large cross-section of people,” including Eric Schmidt, former chief executive officer of Google. Schumer described the effort as in its initial stages but an important priority.

“We have to do something. This is a very very serious problem and issue before the country,” Schumer said. “We don’t want to let China get ahead of us, but at the same time, we’ve got to make sure there’s safety and protection.”

The Tech Behind Those Amazing, Flawed New Chatbots: QuickTake

The New York Democrat’s consideration of potential AI regulation was reported earlier by Axios.

The Chips and Science Act that passed last year included more than $52 billion in grants and incentives for domestic semiconductor production. It broke new ground for the US, which had previously shied away from pursuing national industrial policy like that of China and some European counties. Containing and countering China’s technological advancements was the driving force in that discussion and has spurred lawmakers to look for the next frontiers of competition.

Senators have been sounding out US companies and industry leaders in recent months to identify next priorities, according to an aide familiar with the discussion who declined to speak publicly. Current discussions have settled on quantum computing, biotech and energy in addition to AI.

Schumer began laying the groundwork for the chips effort in 2019 — almost three years before the bipartisan package was signed into law. His initial speech on the issue included a call for investment in AI and quantum computing and was delivered at an event with the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, an independent commission established by Congress and led by Schmidt.

However, the bipartisan cooperation that delivered for the semiconductor industry will be hard to repeat in this Congress, especially with the Republican House majority demanding steep reductions in government spending. And some Republicans have criticized the requirements set by the Biden administration for companies seeking Chips Act funding, such as providing child care and supporting unions.

Still, Democrats are advancing the discussion for powerful developments in AI and quantum computing, hoping that global competition — especially with China — again spurs unity.

“We’re talking to people who see a need and opportunity to build on what was accomplished last Congress in strategic and emerging technologies that are vital to energy security, national security and around which we need greater national expertise and capacity,” Senator Jon Ossoff, a Democrat from Georgia, said in an interview Wednesday.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.