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DC has come alive with the return of Congress and the final countdown to the arrival of tech CEO royalty from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to Elon Musk and Sundar Pichai to name a few. While it won’t be the cage match dangled by Musk and Zuck, many would like to be in the room when they come face to face with AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and American Federation of Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten. We cover all of this and more in this week’s episode of the Washington AI Network podcast featuring Washington Post tech policy reporter Cat Zakrzewski.

September 13 is the first of nine closed-door “AI Insight Forums” hosted by Majority Leader Schumer for Democrats and Republican Senators for a briefing on issues and regulation of AI. Cat will preview that meeting and the efforts of companies to strike a deal with a more favorable U.S. friendly government forum than what they are dealing with in Europe. 

She also addresses the new threats for elections that generative AI presents and gives a look ahead at the UK government’s AI Safety Summit in November. To break down these timely concerns and the current state of play, we turned to an important voice in the tech regulatory landscape…Cat Zakrzewski.

Cat Zakrzewski on the first Schumer AI Insight Forum with Tech CEOs:

Cat predicts, “you’re certainly going to have some tension in this room. If you think of the relationship that the civil rights leaders have had with Elon Musk since he took over Twitter, now X, and all the changes he’s made to the platform. It’s very tense, and Schumer has said that he wants this process to be one where you bring opposing views into the same room to kind of hash this out.”

“Unlike past public hearings, given the Senate meeting on September 13 will be closed to press, Cat notes, “One way that these meetings will differ from a typical hearing where you see a lot of fireworks and an attempt to get sound bites that will go viral on social media afterward. The closed door nature of these discussions could certainly change the tenor of how lawmakers and tech executives are speaking to one another.”

On the wide range of civil rights advocates that are going to be in the room, Cat says, “it just underscores how far reaching the effects of this technology are. You’ve got people concerned about what will happen to workers, what happens to schoolwork as kids go back to the classroom this week, and, you know, so many other effects beyond that for our democracy.”

On Regulatory Issues:

In regards to timing of these forums, Cat notes the growing regulatory landscape, particularly coming out of Europe saying, “These CEOs see Congress as a place where they can probably find some friendlier regulation in order to also spur greater innovation in the US and not just limit it. 

For instance, referencing Sam Altman’s testimony on Capitol Hill, she added “There’s a real fear among some of these executives about what they’re building and where this could go, and a real feeling that they have a responsibility to warn lawmakers about those potential future threats. And so I think that’s one of the other reasons we’re seeing a different type of alignment on AI than we’ve seen in the past.” 

On trust and the immediacy of these meetings, Cat noted the Administration’s recent voluntary commitments from leading AI companies, as well as the critical significance of AI looking forward to election 2024, “I think that is why there’s this attempt right now to have a more conciliatory approach. Take voluntary pledges, show up for these joint meetings. But the big question is whether or not that trust and kind of feel good atmosphere will remain as this technology becomes more ubiquitous. And certainly as we head into the 2024 election, given the problems that could arise with AI.” 

On Election Innovations and Threats:

Cat shared her Washington Post reporting that the enhanced capabilities of ChatGPT allow campaigns to generate highly-targeted messaging as they’ve been doing for years. She added, “now, they can do it much more cheaply, efficiently, and with fewer people. And that opens up, you know, whole new issues and potential risks for democracy.”

On the potential of microtargeting and the potential effect of AI on elections, “Maybe you make a different promise to suburban moms versus people in their twenties living in the city versus older adults living in a rural area…it raises the question of how do we track what politicians are telling people?”

Washington AI Network is a bipartisan forum highlighting the discussions about artificial intelligence policy taking place in official Washington. Listen and subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and Audioboom. Register on here to learn about upcoming events. 

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