Is AI like an atomic bomb? Washington looks to history to understand a hot new technology. [Video]

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The U.S. government seems to be trying its best to figure out what to do about artificial intelligence, reaching out for any historical parallels in this book.

One Belt, One Road leaders have compared the technology to everything from social media exploits (this was with President Biden) to globalization to steam engines.

There was even an atomic bomb.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) said of potential parallels between AI and the Manhattan Project, “It’s a big technological advance, but the consequences are serious.”

The number and variety of metaphors being circulated these days underscore how quickly Washington is in the process of understanding this revolutionary technology, let alone deciding what to do about it. is not.

It also reflects the larger debate about whether this technology will ultimately benefit society and how it will impact American lives.

“AI is like a steam engine”

President Biden addressed social media misbehavior as a way to make sense of AI in his remarks this week. He said he wanted to avoid repeating “the harm that powerful technology can cause without proper safeguards in place.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) used globalization as a warning and a call to action in his speech. He points out that while free trade in recent decades has allowed many wealthy communities to thrive, other groups have made matters worse for themselves.

The trope chosen by Rep. Ted Liu (D-Calif.), one of the few congressmen with a background in computer science, was the steam engine.

“At the moment, AI was like a steam engine, and when it was introduced to society it was very disruptive.” said in a recent video. Using another metaphor, he said it will evolve into something like a “rocket engine with a personality” within a few years.

Perhaps the most dramatic metaphor clash is with Senator Hawley. Reflecting on the atomic bomb, he suggested that the technology could not be remembered as something more positive, similar to the printing press.

FILE - This July 16, 1945 photo shows the mushroom cloud from the first atomic explosion at the Trinity Proving Ground in New Mexico.  On Thursday, July 16, 2015, his 70th anniversary celebration of the Trinity Test in Southern New Mexico was marked by a new book, online video testimonials, and WGN America's drama series


Lessons from the 1800s

Former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler recently wrote a book on similarities in technology across history, suggesting that in the early stages of facing this challenge of few historical similarities, such It suggests that such comparisons are a useful exercise.

He brought up yet another comparison, railroad regulation. He said this could help us not only understand a little bit about AI, but also what we can see from governments in the coming months and years.

He enthusiastically debated what kind of guardrails the United States would need to put in place on the transcontinental railroad, eventually reaching consensus on how to strike a balance that would allow rapid growth while protecting its citizens. It points out that

Wheeler predicts that the debate around AI will follow a similar contour and could become an “evolutionary process” over the next few months.

But his comparison contains one big caveat. That said, the early process around railroads took decades from the first conversation in 1865 to his establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887.

No one expects Washington to waver for so long on the rapidly evolving AI problem.

Central Pacific Railroad track workers pause at a camp

Are the lessons learned from building the transcontinental railroad applicable to the spread of AI today? (AP photo)

Sarah Krebs, director of the Cornell University Institute for Technology Policy, considers herself one of the optimists, predicting that the positives of AI will outweigh the negatives.

But she is quick to remind us that in certain areas the risks are significant. It is very likely that AI will increase misinformation, she said in an interview.

“You can’t legislate with an exaggerated attitude”

Wheeler also warns that such historical comparisons have clear limitations.

“You can’t try to meet today’s challenges with yesterday’s thinking,” he said, noting that in recent years Washington has fallen into a pattern of proposing 19th-century solutions to 21st-century problems. pointed out that there are many

Wheeler is pushing for the creation of a new digital agency to oversee AI policy. He said the actions of Europe, especially the European Union, are now giving them a competitive advantage, while the United States is trying to “gain a place at the table.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 20: President Joe Biden met with AI experts and researchers at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, CA on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. Governor Gavin Newsom, who sits to Biden's right, was also present. Attend.  (Jane Tiska/Digital First Media/Eastbay Times via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden will meet with AI experts and researchers in San Francisco on June 20. (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images)

Washington leaders said they were in charge of the case and recognized that future AI legislation would require a new process.

In a speech this week, Schumer said, “When you have opening statements in congressional hearings and each congressman asks questions for five minutes at a time on a variety of issues, it’s impossible to get the right policy.” claimed.

He suggests complementing the regular legislation with what he calls an AI Insights Forum that brings in external voices designed to help them come up with solutions more agile and faster. He wants a working idea in the next few months.

Another idea came from Congressman Liu, who is working with fellow lawmakers this week on a new Blue Ribbon to study the issue with a focus on rapidly proposing regulation in areas where action is needed. We are considering ideas for creating an AI committee.

A government role in regulating AI in self-driving cars, for example, will almost certainly be necessary, he says. He wants it to be a much higher priority than “smart his toaster with AI.”

Mr. Krebs agrees, saying, “These are all different cauldrons of fish, and you can’t make laws loosely.” He hopes Washington will soon decide on an approach that strikes the right balance between risk mitigation without overdoing the bureaucracy.

And, of course, she nominated herself as a metaphor for understanding AI.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from America’s experience with electricity, she says. It has benefited countless aspects of American life, but we must never forget that people “can be shocked by it,” she notes.

Ben Werschkul is the Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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