In a meeting behind closed doors, all 100 senators will welcome Twitter owner Elon Musk and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, along with Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and many others.
The topic will be the future of artificial intelligence, and more precisely whether to pump the brakes or go faster with technology that some have warned could turn on humanity.
The senators are supposed to gather to listen and to learn but some are pointing out the average age of them in the room is 64. More than half of them are eligible for Social Security and 10 of them are over the age of 75.
“Age is a huge issue here," Jake Denton, an associate with The Heritage Foundation’s tech policy center, said on American Family Radio Tuesday. "This is the same body of our leaders that could never figure out the Dot Com Bubble? We still have lingering issues like Section 230. We've never been able to amend for web 2 or 3.0. You look and it’s the same group that hasn’t been able to solve Tik Tok. That's still an ongoing problem,”
The “Dot Com Bubble” was a period of rampant speculation and bullish investment that led to the Wall Street crash of a young Internet technology industry.
Section 230, part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, provides immunity for only computer services with respect to third-party content posted by users. Critics say it allows tech companies to modify or delete content without being held responsible and that it allows them to hide their own politically partisan activity.
Meanwile, some of the biggest names in AI, including Sam Altman, of Chatbot ChatGPT, posted a statement online in May warning of the dangers of AI and comparing its risk level to pandemics and nuclear war.
First-hand experience with clueless senators
Denton told show host Jenna Ellis his concerns are grounded from personal experience with some U.S. senators.
“I can just tell you firsthand from having briefed a lot of these individuals from meetings all across the city, even people who you would believe to be the brightest of bright," he stressed, "cannot comprehend the advanced computer science discussion that these kind of tech leaders will come in and give them."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) will call the meeting to order at age 73 while the Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has frozen up twice in public but says he's doing fine at age 81.
Among others in the room, Sen. Feinstein, a California Democrat, is the Senate’s grand dame at 90 and has literally been coached by her staff when she couldn't comprehend. Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa will turn 90 on Sunday.
Many senators won’t have the wherewithal to question what they’re hearing.
“You can't push back on maybe a misdirection that a tech leader is giving you or a misrepresentation of the technology because you don't have a computer science 101 understanding of what's going on here,” Denton said.
Those who lack a keen sense of technology will have to rely heavily on their staff members to gain the understanding necessary to craft legislation worthy of this important subject matter.
The Heritage Foundation can provide helpful resources, Denton said, and perhaps other groups too, but the ability of the senators to grasp what they’re dealing with is a real concern.
The fact that the meetings are closed complicates matters. There will be no public forums, no online chats, that might chime in and perhaps correct course if questions are awkward or answers lack some detail or context.
“The same senator who has never touched Twitter or Facebook, and can't figure that out, can't ever imagine typing in a question to chat GPT or having to deal with an AI hiring manager," Denton said. "These are people who will never have to sit through a customer service representative that’s a robot, so they just miss all these pain points."
Musk and the 'black box'
Right now AI is structured in a way that prevents the user or another interested party from understanding the decisions that led to a certain outcome. This system is referred to as AI’s “black box.”
“He’s probably going to push for lifting the black box from these AI models,” Denton said of Musk.
If so, he’s likely to have healthy opposition on that point because his peers are "big proponents" of black box models.
"Because it allows for them to rapidly grow these models, rapidly deploy these technologies, without really too much regard for safety," Denton warned. "That’s bad for all of us, but it's great for their shareholders, and that's kind of all they seem to really care about."
It’s important to note that all tech attendees are not necessarily AI experts. Some will be, but they will attend because they are from some of the largest companies in the world that also happen to offer AI products.
It’s a format that favors the visitors, not the senators, Denton said.
“They’re not really going to get groundbreaking insights on the state of the technology. It’s more just what can the senators do for their bottom line, which is not really a great way to shape, maybe the policy conversation of our time. That’s the troubling position we're in right now,” Denton said.