Senate Democrats are calling for congressional control over Artificial Intelligence (AI) so they can supposedly stop the rapidly advancing technology from spreading so-called “misinformation.”
The Internet and social media were transformative technologies that enabled the distribution of speech at a speed and scale that the world had never seen before.
Generative AI is a technology that can quickly construct various types of media with a few prompts.
It has similar transformative potential because it allows people to create text, images, art, music, videos, and more at a speed and scale that was never possible before.
As the Internet and social media became more ubiquitous, some lawmakers attempted to put the genie back in the bottle by ignoring First Amendment concerns.
Online platforms have come under increasing demands to censor content that lawmakers deem to be “misinformation.”
During the first Senate hearing on generative AI, Democrat lawmakers made similar demands for this new technology.
The hearing was titled “Oversight of A.I.: Rules for Artificial Intelligence” and several senators quizzed the witnesses.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, IBM Chief Privacy & Trust Officer Christina Montgomery, and NYU Professor Emeritus Gary Marcus were all called to testify before the hearing.
The experts were asked how generative AI could be censored or restricted so that it couldn’t create content that they deem to be “misinformation.”
Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said: “We just can’t let people make stuff up and then not have any consequence.”
She also complained that the OpenAI’s generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, had produced false information after her team asked it to create a tweet about a polling location in Bloomington, Minnesota.
The Democrat senator then used this example to suggest that “all kinds of misinformation” could be generated during elections.
Altman told Klobuchar that OpenAI is concerned about the impact on elections.
“Hopefully the entire industry and government can work together quickly,” Altman said.
He continued by explaining that ChatGPT is different from social media because it’s used to generate content, not distribute it.
However, Altman still assured Klobuchar that OpenAI is censoring ChatGPT outputs by refusing to generate certain things.
Altman also said his company is monitoring activity so that it can detect when users generate lots of content.
Ironically, Klobuchar responded to Altman with false claims by invoking “what happened in the past with Russian interference and the like” as a justification for cracking down.
The claim that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election and manipulated social media has been pushed by several pro-censorship politicians.
They argue that false claims that are unsupported by facts are dangerous.
Yet there’s very little evidence to support this mass Russian interference claim.
Twitter officials and a report from Special Counsel John Durham have found a lack of evidence when investigating claims.
Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) suggested that the AI-generated images were “harmful” and complained that such images may not be classed as harmful by OpenAI.
She then pushed for “guardrails that we need to protect…literally our country from harmful content.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) indicated that he supported banning generative AI model outputs “involving elections.”
He asked the witnesses what other outputs they think should be banned or restricted.
Montgomery said “misinformation” is a “hugely important” area to look at.
Marcus said “medical misinformation” is “something to really worry about” and called for “tight regulation.”
Senator Chris Coon (D-DE) said “disinformation that can influence elections” is “entirely predictable.”
Coon lamented that Congress has so far been unsuccessful in applying social media disinformation regulations.
He asked the witnesses whether the EU’s direction is the right path to follow.
He was referencing the European Union’s far-reaching AI Act which regulates AI based on risk and bans certain uses of AI).
Montgomery said the EU approach “makes a ton of sense” and that “guardrails need to be in place.”
Throughout the hearing, Democrat senators expressed their eagerness to force AI companies to censor content that they deem to be “misinformation.”
However, none of them mentioned that social media censorship based on this vague, subjective term has led to mass censorship of truthful content, such as the Hunter Biden laptop story and statements about the Covid vaccine not preventing transmission.
Sen. Hirono’s comments also indicate that lawmakers have no qualms about applying these sweeping censorship rules to AI-generated memes or similar content that’s not intended to be taken seriously.
Not only did concerns about over-censorship never get addressed during this hearing but the dominant AI companies are already starting to censor what their tools will output.
The CEO of Midjourney, the generative AI tool that was used to create the viral images of President Donald Trump being arrested, has admitted that Midjourney blocks various prompts, including prompts that attempt to create images featuring Chinese President Xi Jinping.
OpenAI already censors some outputs and has vowed to implement “safeguards” that address “misinformation.”
Censorship is just one of the restrictions lawmakers are attempting to impose on this potentially transformative technology.
Many senators are also big fans of only allowing companies that have a government-approved license to offer generative AI tools.