Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, July 20, 2024

US Senators Propose $32 Billion in Annual AI Spending, but Critics Remain Unconvinced 

Senate leader, Chuck Schumer, and three colleagues want the US government to spend at least $32 billion annually by 2026 for non-defense related AI systems.  This includes spending on government and private-sector research and development of the technology.

The long-awaited legislative plan for AI comes after months of discussions, meetings, and hosting AI Insight Forums, which included participation from AI experts and leaders such as Google CEO Sundar Pichai and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. 

The Bipartisan Senate AI Working Group, which includes Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Senator Todd Young (R-IN), released a roadmap for AI policy that is aimed to provide guidance to Senate committee crafting AI regulations. 

The primary goals of the proposal are to propel US leadership in AI, facilitate cutting-edge AI research and development, and mitigate the risks of AI use. The proposal also calls for studies to understand AI's impact on the US job market. 

The proposal comes at a time when there are rising concerns about China’s rapid advances in AI, and their ability to use the technology to create bioweapons, meddle in other countries’ elections, and launch cyberattacks. 

The Senate group recommends creating a federal data privacy law to prevent misuse of technology. It also encourages the introduction of regulations on AI that safeguard against the elimination of jobs, and copyright violations, and offer protection against health and financial discrimination. 

“No technology offers more promise to our modern world than artificial intelligence. But AI also presents a host of new policy challenges. Harnessing the potential of AI demands an all-hands-on-deck approach and that’s exactly what our bipartisan AI working group has been leading,” said Leader Schumer. 

The Senate proposal marks the beginning of what could be a significant step taken by the US government to accelerate the development of the technology. However, the AI roadmap has drawn some criticism. 

The proposal seems to defer the establishment of comprehensive regulations. It only makes recommendations to the agencies and congressional committees. This is in contrast to the approach taken by the European Union, which has already enacted stringent AI regulations. Any delay by the US in enforcing AI regulations would only widen the gap between the US and the EU. 

Critics also highlight the vagueness of the implementation plans. While the AI roadmap offers broad policy recommendations, it does not go into legislative details, which would have allowed for more immediate action on pressing issues. The Senators have mostly left the responsibility of enacting the regulations to individual committees. 

Some senators encourage allocating a significant amount of funds to AI research and development. However, critics argue this seems to be most beneficial for the top tech players in the market, like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. The roadmap does not do enough to address urgent policy issues like AI’s impact on policing, immigration, and worker's rights. 

“Schumer’s new AI framework reads like it was written by Sam Altman and Big Tech lobbyists,” said Evan Greer, director at Fight for the Future, a nonprofit digital rights advocacy group. “It’s heavy on flowery language about ‘innovation’ and pathetic when it comes to substantive issues around discrimination, civil rights, and preventing AI-exacerbated harms. The framework eagerly suggests pouring Americans’ tax dollars into AI research and development for military, defense, and private sector profiteering.”

While Schumer says that he hopes Congress passes the legislation by the year-end, it might be challenging to do so in the lead-up to the US presidential elections. Lawmakers are often cautious of making any major legislative moves near the elections that can alienate voters or provoke strong reactions. 

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