On Wednesday, US senators played host to nearly two dozen tech industry titans in a closed-door session in Washington, DC, discussing the future of AI. But despite the power vested in all those members of Congress, the senators were the ones who had to dutifully defer to their guests.
Wired reports that the over 60 senators "sat like school children," forbidden from speaking or raising their hands. And to be fair, the intent of the forum was to be educational — but you'd be right to question the authority of a teacher who doesn't let their pupils ask questions.
Given the guests in attendance, their compliance may as well have been peremptory. Notables included Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang.
You don't need to do the exact math to know that their combined net worths rival that of a small, disproportionately wealthy nation.
Not all were on board with being on the receiving end of a schooling. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) complained that the private nature of the meeting and the lack of input from senators was counterproductive to actual lawmaking, and stifled the chance for cooperation.
"There's no feeling in the room," Warren told Wired. "Closed-door [sessions] for tech giants to come in and talk to senators and answer no tough questions is a terrible precedent for trying to develop any kind of legislation."
Still, the forum is undeniably a historic occasion. It's not every day you get all these guys in the same room to mouth off to Congress. And, further still, it's even rarer for them to all agree on something, or at least ostensibly: that the federal government must step in to regulate AI.
"It's important for us to have a referee," Musk, who recently launched his own AI firm, told reporters after the briefing, as quoted by Wired. "[It] may go down in history as very important to the future of civilization."
When Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who organized the meeting, asked if the government needs to regulate AI, the response was unanimous.
"Every single person raised their hand, even though they had diverse views," Schumer said, per Wired.
Having a consensus is a strong starting point, but ironing out what that regulation should look like or how it will be enforced will undoubtedly be divisive.
It's worth considering whether these corporate leaders should be the ones having the ears of the country's senators rather than, say, a panel of scientists and AI experts. Is this a show of good faith on Silicon Valley's part, paternalistic concern, dressed-up lobbying, or some plain-and-simple swindling?
Frustratingly, the closed-door nature of the meeting precludes us from getting any more insight. So for now, we'll have to take their word for it.
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