Congress hates big tech, but still seems bullish on AI

Kicking off a series of AI hearings on Tuesday, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) used a text-to-speech generator trained on hours of his speeches to deliver an opening statement before OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed their urgency (or had a computer do it for them) on regulating artificial intelligence during the hearing. But they struck a mostly friendly tone with Altman, who supported many of the same reforms they proposed. For his part, Altman clung to the idea that Congress would create a new agency tasked with regulating artificial intelligence and authorizing larger companies to develop it.

“We believe that the benefits of the tools we have implemented thus far far outweigh the risks,” Altman said in his opening testimony. “However, we believe that regulatory intervention by governments will be essential to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models.”

“Congress has a choice now.”

The lawmakers’ apparent enthusiasm stood in stark contrast to their highly critical past questioning of CEOs like Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew. They seemed encouraged by Altman’s appetite for safety rules and occasionally thanked him for his testimony; Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) asked Altman if he would be interested in working for any regulatory agency created by Congress. Rather than harping on the mistakes of the past, the senators seemed eager for the benefits that could result from AI technology.

“We need to maximize the good over the bad. Congress has a choice now. We had the same choice when faced with social media. We couldn’t take advantage of that moment,” Blumenthal said Tuesday. “Now we have an obligation to do it with AI before the threats and risks become real.”

Congress’s plan to regulate AI is still unclear after Tuesday’s hearing, which was just the first of several lawmakers plan to hold over the summer. A new regulatory agency was the most discussed, but lawmakers passed other ideas over Altman’s head, such as holding AI companies liable for harm they inflict on users.

“Having seen how the agencies work in this government, they often get captured by the interests they are supposed to regulate,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), taking a similar line to his position on other tech companies. “Why don’t we let people sue you?”

Some lawmakers have already introduced bills to restrict the use of AI in all industries. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced a bill requiring new disclosures in political ads that use AI-generated content. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced supplemental legislation in the Senate ahead of the hearing.

The congressional push to regulate AI follows a handful of moves from both the White House and federal agencies. Earlier this month, Altman and the CEOs of Google, Microsoft and Nvidia met with Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House to discuss developing responsible AI. The White House has put forward industry requests to prevent harm like discrimination in the past, and last year put out an “AI Bill of Rights.”

Regulators have also begun to focus on how they could better regulate the industry. In April, the Federal Trade Commission, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, the Department of Justice, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a joint statement warning companies that they already had the authority to go after them when their products harm users, regardless of what steps Congress ultimately takes.


Scroll to Top