US senators unveil AI policy roadmap, seek government funding boost

By Thomson Reuters May 15, 2024 | 4:04 AM

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, called on Wednesday for a big jump in government research funding of artificial intelligence as they debate new legal safeguards.

Generative AI – which can create text, photos and videos in response to open-ended prompts – has spurred excitement as well as fears that it could make some jobs obsolete, upend elections and potentially overpower humans, with catastrophic effects.

Joined by Republicans Mike Rounds and Todd Young and Democrat Martin Heinrich, Schumer released a roadmap that draws on expert input to broach thorny issues arising from the rapid advance of AI.

The senators backed a goal in a commission report to reach government funding of at least $32 billion a year for non-defense aspects of AI innovation.

“This is a time in which the dollars related to this particular investment will pay dividends to the taxpayers of this country long term,” Rounds said.

“China now spends probably about 10 times more than we do on AI development. They are in a hurry.”

The sum represented “surge emergency funding to cement America’s dominance in AI” including “outcompeting China”, Schumer told reporters shortly before the release.

Senators are still considering how much Congress should dedicate additionally for defense-related AI “but it’s going to be a very large number,” Schumer added.

Senators called for funding for a cross-government AI research and development effort, including an all-of-government “AI-ready data” initiative and new funding for government AI testing and evaluation infrastructure.

They touted AI’s potential to eliminate crippling illnesses, end traffic congestion and provide advanced personalized learning for all students.

The senators held a series of forums with AI policy leaders to try to reach consensus.

The Biden administration and lawmakers, concerned AI could affect elections, have sought AI legislation, but made little headway. The administration is separately moving to adopt rules.

Schumer said committees would work on AI legislation in the coming months.

“We’re not going to wait on legislation that addresses every aspect of AI in society,” Schumer said, adding he hopes Congress would pass some legislation by year-end.

U.S. officials warn that AI can heighten risks of bias and pave the way for election interference via deep fakes.

They also fear that powerful AI models could be used to help make bioweapons or launch cyber attacks, with particular concerns surrounding China.

On Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee is set to consider legislation to tackle the impact of AI in elections, with measures such as preventing deceptive AI-generated content in campaign ads.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)