Lawmakers: Don't Gauge Artificial Intelligence By What You See In The Movies : All Tech Considered Elon Musk and others have warned that AI poses a risk to civilization. Two House members say they have doubts about those warnings, but they say it's time for the government to pay more attention.

Lawmakers: Don't Gauge Artificial Intelligence By What You See In The Movies

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Artificial intelligence, AI, is the subject of great hopes, dire warnings and now a congressional caucus. House members John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat, and Pete Olson, a Texas Republican, formed the bipartisan Artificial Intelligence Caucus, and they are our guests on All Tech Considered.


SIEGEL: Congressmen, welcome to the program.

JOHN DELANEY: Thanks for having us.

PETE OLSON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: First I'd like to hear briefly why each of you saw the point of forming a caucus to address artificial intelligence. First, Congressman Delaney, why?

DELANEY: Well, if you go outside of government and you talk to people in business, academia, the nonprofit world, they're obsessed with how the pace of innovation is really changing society. And we spend very little time on that here in the Congress. And that's why it's such a good opportunity for me to work with my colleague here and create a group where we can convene some of the best thinkers on these issues around the country to make these things more beneficial for our citizens in general.

SIEGEL: Well, let's hear from your colleague. Congressman Olson, you're a Texas Republican. Why did you join and form this caucus?

OLSON: Robert, my generation thinks AI, they think of "2001: A Space Odyssey." That is not the AI we know right now. It's our job right now to educate our colleagues and come together, get this thing rolling 'cause it is our future.

SIEGEL: The founder of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk, has issued some warnings about AI. He says at some point, it'll be so advanced it'll disrupt jobs in the transportation sector and elsewhere. He also predicts more apocalyptic scenarios like a war fought over control of AI. And he's urged officials of - in the U.S. to be more proactive. You formed a caucus. Do you think that Congress is being proactive enough, or is Mr. Musk being alarmist?

DELANEY: Sure. We all think about the Terminator movies, and we see - think about some drones that are empowered with artificial intelligence that could go off and kill 10,000 people in 30 seconds or something. But we have to realize between now and then, there's going to be a thousand opportunities for human intervention in the programming and in the transparency and in kind of collective rulemaking with the private sector and the government working together to prevent these things from happening.

And as it relates to jobs, there's no question it's going to disrupt a lot of jobs. But historically innovation has always created more jobs than it's taken away. So you know, I tend to be a little more bullish on the long-term employment trajectory even in a world with a lot of artificial intelligence.

SIEGEL: I'm curious to hear how you - and I'll ask Congressman Olson - how do you deal with one particular future shock here, which is, we could at some point have autonomous vehicles that vastly reduce the number of, say, automobile fatalities. But if those fatalities that do occur, even though they may be far fewer than what we would experience otherwise, are caused by defects in a machine and are accidents that a human driver could have avoided, I think there's something in human nature that says I could have prevented - there's something wrong here. We can't have that. How do you solve that problem?

OLSON: Robert, that's a problem solved with education. I mean the bottom line is this is much better for our future - having those vehicles out there, where as you mentioned, accidents that kill people will be much, much less. There may be some mistake, and that will be settled by a lawsuit. But the bottom line is over time, these cars will be safer. It'll empower people, particularly elderly, wounded people, people with disabilities. They will have a life back 'cause they'll have mobility - just one example of how AI is the future.

SIEGEL: By the way, I just assume - Congressman Olson, I assume that the armed services would be pretty far ahead in these matters, aren't they?

OLSON: Robert, I'm sure they're doing that work, but I'm not aware of what they're doing. I mean that's part of it. Again, this is so versatile for transportations, for military, for NASA, for offshore drilling, deepwater drilling, all sorts of issues we can apply this technology to to change people's lives and create American jobs.

SIEGEL: That's Republican Congressman Pete Olson of Texas. And Congressman John Delaney, Democrat of Maryland, since this was your idea initially to have this caucus, just tell me in brief, what would you accomplish if the caucus works well?

DELANEY: We've got a specific piece of legislation that I'm working with Pete on. It's called the Future of AI Act, which would create a federal advisory committee at the Department of Commerce to examine AI. I think it'd be great if Congress was actually getting some smart reports from our government about how the Treasury Department thinks it's going to affect financial markets, how the Department of Defense thinks this is going to affect weapons applications in the future, how the Department of Labor thinks this is going to affect employment.

I'd love to see a situation where the various departments of the government were reporting on their best guesses as to how this will play out over the next five, 10, 25 years. That would help us as legislators. And I think we in Congress can guide the government to put that kind of framework in place.

SIEGEL: Maryland Congressman John Delaney and Texas Congressman Pete Olson, Democrat and Republican respectively, thanks for talking with us about the Artificial Intelligence Caucus.

DELANEY: Thank you, Robert.

OLSON: You're quite welcome. Thank you.

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