How Sam Altman Stormed Washington to Set the A.I. Agenda

A few weeks after OpenAI released its ChatGPT chatbot last year, artificial intelligence startup chief executive Sam Altman began lobbying in Washington.

He demonstrated ChatGPT at a breakfast meeting with more than 20 lawmakers at the Capitol. In a closed-door meeting with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, he called for AI to be regulated. Lawmakers and the Biden administration say Altman has been discussing rapidly evolving technology with at least 100 lawmakers at the White House, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris and his cabinet members.

“It’s very refreshing,” said Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who also chaired the committee that held an AI hearing featuring Altman last month. “He was motivated, capable and enthusiastic.”

Tech industry chief executives have typically shied away from the attention of government regulators and lawmakers. In recent years, it took the threat of subpoenas and public humiliation to convince Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Google’s Sundar Pichai to testify before Congress. rice field.

But the 38-year-old Altman has run for the spotlight, capturing the attention of lawmakers by letting go of his cold demeanor toward Silicon Valley companies. He started the meeting and jumped at the opportunity to testify at a Senate hearing last month. And instead of protesting regulation, he called on lawmakers to impose drastic rules to hold technology accountable.

Altman has also traveled and delivered a similar message about AI on a tour of 17 cities in South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. In recent weeks, he has met with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Snack and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“We believe that regulatory intervention by governments will be key to de-risking an increasingly powerful model,” Altman said at a Senate hearing last month.

His attractive offensive put him in a position of significant influence. By working early with lawmakers, Altman is shaping the debate on AI governance and educating Washington on the complexity of the technology, especially as concerns about AI grow. A page in recent history, he’s also working to avoid the pitfalls that befall social media companies, a constant target of lawmakers, and pave the way for AI.

His actions may help cement OpenAI’s position at the forefront of the AI ​​regulation debate. Microsoft, Google, IBM and AI startups are battling it out over the proposed rule, and are divided over how much governments want to intervene in the industry. The rift has prompted other tech executives to file lawsuits against the Biden administration, members of Congress and global regulators.

So far, Mr. Altman’s strategy seems to be working. US lawmakers look to him as an educator and adviser. Last month, he briefed dozens of members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House AI Caucus on ChatGPT. He proposes creating an independent regulatory body for AI, licensing the technology, and creating safety standards.

“I have a lot of respect for Sam,” said Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who invited Mr. Altman to a dinner with a dozen other senators last month.

However, it is unclear how long such goodwill will last. Some lawmakers warned against relying too heavily on Altman and other tech leaders to educate them about the explosion of new AI technologies.

At the Senate hearings, the top Republican, Sen. Josh Hawley, said, “He certainly looks different. It was good that he was able to testify.” “But I still don’t think we should give too much credit to his company.”

By learning from past failures in the tech industry, OpenAI said it hopes to bridge the AI ​​knowledge gap between Silicon Valley and Washington and help shape regulation.

“We don’t want this to turn out to be like the previous technological revolutions,” said Anna Makanju, OpenAI’s public policy director who leads a small team of five policy experts. . “I know this is a critical time, so I try to say yes to these kinds of meetings as much as possible,” she said.

For years, Altman has been warning about the potential risks of AI while also talking about the technology. In 2015, he co-founded OpenAI with Tesla CEO Elon Musk and others while leading startup incubator Y Combinator. In a blog post at the time, he wrote that governments should regulate AI’s most powerful tools.

“In an ideal world, regulation would slow down the bad guys and speed up the good guys,” he says. I have written.

Altman has long held the view that early engagement with regulators is better, Makanju said.

2018 when OpenAI was published STATEMENT OF ITS MISSION, has promised to prioritize safety, which implied regulatory involvement, Makanju said. When the company released DALL-E, an AI tool that creates images from text commands, in 2021, it sent chief researcher Ilya Sutskever to introduce the technology to lawmakers.

In January, Mr. Altman traveled to Washington to speak at an off-the-record breakfast with lawmakers hosted by the Aspen Institute. He answered questions and previewed his GPT-4, OpenAI’s new AI engine. GPT-4 is said to be built with better security features.

Altman surprised some lawmakers with his outspokenness about the risks of AI. During a meeting with California Democrat Rep. Ted Liu at OpenAI’s San Francisco office in March, Altman said AI could have a devastating impact on work, reducing the workweek from five to one. said to be sexual.

“He’s very outspoken,” said Liu, who has a degree in computer science.

Altman returned to Washington in early May to meet with Harris and the chief executives of Microsoft, Google and AI startup Anthropic at the White House. During his visit, he also discussed regulatory thinking and concerns about China’s AI development with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader.

In mid-May, Mr. Altman returned to a two-day marathon with lawmakers, starting with a dinner hosted by Mr. Liu and Rep. Mike Johnson (Louisiana Republican) at the Capitol. Over a buffet of roast chicken, potatoes and salad, he wowed the audience for two and a half hours showing his ChatGPT and answering questions.

Liu said he typed into the ChatGPT prompt displayed on the big screen, “Write a bill to name the post office in Congressman Ted Liu’s name.” “Write a speech for Congressman Mike Johnson introducing this bill,” he wrote as his second prompt.

Liu said the answer was so compelling that it drew laughter and frowns from the audience.

The next morning, Mr. Altman testified before a Senate hearing about the risks of AI. He presented a list of regulatory ideas and endorsed lawmakers’ proposals, including Blumenthal’s idea of ​​a consumer risk label on an AI tool similar to nutrition labels on food.

“We’re used to having witnesses come in and try to convince us by narrowing things down,” Blumenthal said. “The difference with Sam Altman is that he’s having a conversation.”

After a three-hour hearing, Altman addressed the Senate Intelligence Committee on the security risks of AI. That evening he spoke at Mr. Warner’s dinner at the Harvest Tide Steakhouse on Capitol Hill. (Mr. Altman is a vegetarian.)

He also benefited from: partnership A partnership between OpenAI and Microsoft, which invested $13 billion in the startup. Microsoft president Brad Smith said he and Altman gave each other feedback on drafts of notes and blog posts. The two companies also coordinated messaging ahead of the White House meeting, Smith said.

“Any day we can actually support each other is a good day because we’re trying to do something together,” he said.

Some researchers and competitors said OpenAI has too much influence in the AI ​​regulation debate. Altman’s proposals for licensing and testing could benefit more established AI companies like him, said Marieche Schaake, a researcher at Stanford University’s Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and a former member of the European Parliament. said.

“He’s not only an expert, he’s also a stakeholder,” Shirk said.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button