Silicon Valley’s AI boom collides with a skeptical Sacramento

Efforts to control the fast-spreading technology — that teaches machines to think and act like humans — will dominate Sacramento next year as California lawmakers prepare at least a dozen bills to curb AI’s “biggest threat” to society. The legislative push, first reported by POLITICO, will target the technology’s potential to eliminate vast numbers of jobs, intrude on workers’ privacy, sow election misinformation, imperil public safety and make decisions based on biased algorithms.

The upcoming clash will cast California in a familiar role as a de facto U.S. regulator in the absence of federal action, as has happened with data privacy, online safety standards for children and vehicle-emission requirements — and a force multiplier for the European Union’s more stringent approach.

It will set lawmakers eager to avoid letting another transformative technology spiral out of control — and powerful labour unions intent on protecting jobs — against the deep-pocketed tech industry. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, an innovation evangelist who wants to impose safeguards while maintaining California’s economic edge, will undoubtedly shape negotiations behind the scenes.

“Generative AI is a potentially world-changing technology for unimaginable benefit, …incalculable cost and harm…I don’t know that anyone in the world — not Google, not (OpenAI founder) Sam Altman, certainly not Gavin Newsom — knows what the full trajectory of this technology is.”  

Jason Elliott, the Governor of California’s point person on artificial intelligence

California lawmakers have already ensured 2024 will be far busier than past years by unveiling legislation to limit the use of actors’ AI-generated voices and likenesses, stamp watermarks on digital content, root out prejudice in tools informing decisions in housing and health care and compel AI companies to prepare for apocalyptic scenarios. More bills are coming — including a long list of union-backed measures seeking to limit the negative fallout for workers.

Artificial intelligence can be a tricky concept to define, sitting on a spectrum of gradual technological advancement in a way that complicates regulation. Elliott pointed out that crimes ripe for exploitation through AI, like financial fraud, are already illegal and embedded in tightly regulated fields.

Industry groups are preparing to make related arguments as they seek to thwart or dilute bills in Sacramento.

“Some of what policymakers are calling ‘AI’ is just technology…Some of these bills will have an AI label on them, but they’ll be resurfacing old debates — automation, privacy, competition, speech, kids.”

Elliott said Newsom’s focus is on protecting Californians from the downsides of the new tools, including by guiding how government agencies procure and use artificial intelligence. But the governor — never one to shy away from the spotlight — also sees an opportunity to lead. 

“The same way that, for example, California is a global leader in setting clean car standards,” Elliott said, “we have the market size, and we can lead and start to define what government responsible use looks like in this emerging space.”

Source: Politico



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