Schumer: US has ‘narrowing’ lead over China on AI


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday the US is ahead of China on artificial intelligence (AI), but he warned that the “gap is narrowing” and the US has to keep pushing ahead.

“If we don’t do anything, China’s going to get ahead of us,” Schumer said during an interview at a Washington Post Live event.

“If you talk to our leading experts whether it’s the [Department of Defense], [National Security Agency]or [Central Intelligence Agency], or any of those places, we’re ahead. But the gap is narrowing. We cannot sit, just relax,” he added.

Schumer has been leading on AI regulation talks along with a bipartisan group of lawmakers he assembled which includes Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

Part of the plan includes hosting a series of AI Insight Forums that bring together stakeholders from tech companies, civil rights groups and academia to meet with Senators to discuss the benefits and risks of AI.

The second AI forum was held on Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s forum, Schumer said there was bipartisan consensus that the government needs to be involved with AI regulation, and that the government needs “significant resources” for the task.

“The minimum number that was talked about was $32 billion,” Schumer said, adding that even Republicans in the room agreed.

But lawmakers are still weighing where, and how, to invest any funding for AI.

The next AI Insight Forum will be held Wednesday, Schumer said. Wednesday’s forum will focus on two topics, impacts of AI on the workforce and areas of “high impact.”

“Workforce is important, and that’s positive and negative. How do we train people, because there’s going to be millions of new jobs created by AI, but also how do we deal with people who might lose their jobs because of AI?” Schumer said.

High impact areas include sectors such as finance and healthcare, where AI is already having an impact, Schumer said. The forum will look at how AI is being deployed and if there are biases built in impacting individuals.

A future forum will be held on election reform, he said.

Schumer said legislation to regulate the use of generative AI in elections is an area lawmakers “may have to move the most quickly on” with the 2024 election on the horizon.

Already, 2024 candidates have used generative AI. The ability for the realistic technology to falsely depict a public figure saying or doing something is adding to concerns about the spread of disinformation online.

A bipartisan bill proposed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Chris Coons (D-De.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) aims to ban the use of deceptive AI-generated content in political ads.

Schumer didn’t share his thoughts on the specific proposal, but reiterated that the AI ​​forums are meant to “augment” work by committees rather than replace it.

At the same time as Congress weighs regulation, the Biden administration has been taking steps toward action on AI.

The White House secured commitments from top tech companies leading on AI in July geared at managing AI risks.

President Biden has also said he would be taking executive action on AI. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the president will unveil a sweeping AI executive order on Monday.

Schumer, however, said there is a limit to what can be done through an executive order.

“They’re concerned and they’re doing a lot regulatoryly, but everyone admits the only real answer is legislative,” he said.

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