Watch Congress Grill OpenAI’s Sam Altman, Creator of ChatGPT

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OpenAI CEO Sam Altman will make his Congressional debut before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee today—Tuesday at 10 am EST. He’s expected to roll out the charm offensive to try and convince lawmakers to pursue light-handed legislation that gives artificial intelligence like his company’s product ChatGPT a wide runway to rapidly advance. Altman’s rosy testimony expounding on the societal virtues of generative AI will likely clash with skeptical lawmakers and other expert witnesses, who are expected to demand strong new federal regulations to try and address discrimination and other unintended AI harms.

Altman said of the public’s understanding of ChatGPT and text-generating AI, “For a while, people were fooled by PhotoShop. Then they quickly developed an understanding around altered images. This will be like that, but on steroids.”

Lawmakers questioning Altman on Tuesday said the stakes were dire. In his opening statement, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley AI could go one of two routes: a new printing press or an atomic bomb.

“We could be looking at one of the most important technological innovations in human history,” Hawley said. “It’s really like the invention of the internet at scale, at least.”

You can watch a live stream of ChatGPT creator Sam Altman testifying before Congress hearing here:

The hearing comes during a crucial inflection point for large language models like ChatGPT with lawmakers and regulators publicly struggling to stay a step ahead of the rapidly evolving tech. Google, Altman’s Open AI, Microsoft, Meta, and others are simultaneously in a dead sprint to determine who will emerge as the biggest winner in the new AI arms race.

Sam Altman expected to support regulation of ChatGPT and AI at large… So long as it’s his preferred type of legislation 

Major tech executives over the years have learned it’s a fool’s errand to dig in their heels and vocally oppose any sign of regulation. Instead, the more common playbook, which Almtan is expected to follow, is to advocate in favor of their preferred type of legislation. On Tuesday, according to The Financial Times, Altman will tell lawmakers “regulation of AI is essential” but that such regulation should balance safety against ensuring wide access of the tech to the general public. ChatGPT, which debuted in November, has already amassed 100 million users, according to OpenAI.

During the testimony, Altman recommended lawmakers pursue new sets of safety requirements that could test of products before they are released. Altman suggested new testing and licensing requirements for AI developers could help set a level playing field for competition. The CEO appeared open to a recommendation by Sen. Blumenthal and others to consider a “nutrition label for AI,” and other transparency proposals, but caveated that by saying he still believes the benefits of AI “outweigh the risks.” Safety requirements, according to Altman, will need to be flexible enough to adapt to potentially unforeseen new advances in the tech.

“We think that regulatory intervention of governments will be crucial,” Altman said.

Other expert witnesses, like former New York University professor Gary Marcus, are expected to take a more measured stance toward the technology and warn of a recent rise in potentially dangerous “AI hype.” Marcus urged lawmakers Tuesday to approach AI safety with a profound sense of urgency and warned them against repeating the same mistakes they made in failing to regulate social media years ago.

“We’re facing a perfect storm of corporate irresponsibility, widespread deployment, lack of adequate regulation, and inherent unreliability,” Marcus said during the hearing.

Marcus and Altman were joined by IBM Chef Privacy and Trust Officer Christina Montgomery who urged lawmakers against regulating AI as a technology and advised lawmakers to instead consider regulating particularly harmful use cases of the tech.

AI will come for jobs, but the extent of the disruption remains unclear

All three of the witnesses speaking on Tuesday agreed AI could disrupt and transform the workplace, but the extent and timeframe of those changes were a matter of debate. Altman said he believed his products and other AI services would have a “significant impact on jobs” but noted it’s unclear exactly how that will play out. For now, Altman said GTP4 and other AI systems excel at completing tasks but are not at proficiency at completing full jobs

“I believe there will be far greater jobs on the other side of this,” Altman said.

Marcus went a step further and said artificial general intelligence could threaten most jobs. That day, however, could be as far as 50 years away. The AI skeptic said OpenAI’s models were a far cry away from achieving artificial general intelligence.

Lawmakers will want to appear prepared for a new era of tech

As with any tech hearing, some lawmakers are likely to appear underprepared and out of touch with the technology in question. At the same time, there’s good reason to think the wide experimentation with ChatGPT-style chatbots and the recent surge in public concern over AI harms has motivated at least some of the senators in attendance to research the issues and come out swinging. Lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum are trying to avoid a repeat of earlier hearings on cryptocurrency and social media where they failed to press executives on the impact of their technologies and appeared incapable of drafting meaningful legal safeguards.

Around half a dozen new bills or legislative actions on AI have emerged in recent weeks led by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and California Rep. Ted Lieu. On the regulatory side, the Federal Trade Commission has released several statements clarifying its intent to use existing laws to punish AI companies up to no good. Chairwoman Lina Khan further signaled her aggressive approach toward AI earlier this month with an editorial in the New York Times succinctly titled “We Must Regulate A.I.

On the executive side, the White House has so far tried to straddle a middle ground, simultaneously investing in new AI research and speaking amicably with major tech executives about AI while still expressing concerns over areas of potential abuse.

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