US Senate and Tech Companies Reach a Consensus on Artificial Intelligence*

*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

Tech giants have agreed to lenient government regulation of the IT industry.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other lawmakers met behind closed doors with nearly two dozen leaders of tech companies. The panel featured Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai. The meeting attendees reached a mutual agreement that the IT sector needs a single regulatory framework, but it is still unclear what kind of framework is needed. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been in no rush to regulate artificial intelligence as thoroughly as the European Union does, which could help U.S. companies develop the technology.

The meeting between the senators and IT moguls turned out to be productive because all parties reached a mutual understanding and were willing to compromise. Some have even criticized the Senate for this very friendly approach. Sen. Josh Hawley said he did not understand why it was necessary to invite “all the biggest monopolists in the world to come and give Congress tips on how to help them make more money and then close it to the public.”

Politicians, especially Democrats, have been putting a certain amount of pressure on the IT sector for several years now. Therefore, the participants of the closed-door U.S. Senate meeting agreed that regulation of the AI sector is necessary. However, it seems that no agreement on how to achieve this has been reached, at least not yet.

The media reported that Schumer was too lenient with the powerful businessmen. The Senate Democratic leader in some ways was even more concerned with making deals with IT giants than with protecting the civil rights and liberties of ordinary citizens.

Even Musk, a businessman with a rather liberal agenda, was in favor of establishing a framework to actively regulate AI. He is known to fear the rapid development of AI technology, which supposedly can threaten humanity with rather dire consequences. In his interview with journalists, Musk said that the uncontrolled development of AI poses a “civilizational risk.”

It is thought that Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Hawley may prepare a bill to create a body that would issue licenses after conducting the necessary checks regarding the potential harm of any particular artificial intelligence product. Politico reports that there were only two or three senators present at the meeting.

Moreover, no concrete decision was made. Perhaps IT companies are going to enjoy their freedom a bit longer, while the EU has already developed its AI industry regulations. Washington is in no hurry to follow the example of Brussels simply because it wants to give American companies a competitive advantage. In other words, no one is really listening to Musk yet. The Senate is generally more inclined to give freedom to IT companies but with some exceptions.

“Controversy over the regulation of the AI sector has existed and will remain for the time being. Suffice it to say that the U.S. and EU have not reached a consensus regarding AI since their attempt to sign the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership back in 2016, which was even before Donald Trump took office. In fact, the agreement completely failed and has not been signed to this day,” said Alexei Portansky, a professor at the School of World Economics and World Politics at the National Research University of the Higher School of Economics.

In the interview, Portansky emphasized that Washington and Brussels could not agree on how to regulate the IT industry, notably data storage. “These issues are now being addressed by the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, which was created after the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership had failed,” Portansky explained.

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