Mr. ChatGPT Goes to Washington: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman Testifies Before Congress on AI Risks

(CNN) OpenAI CEO Sam Altman urged lawmakers to regulate artificial intelligence during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, describing the technology’s current boom as a potential “press moment,” but one that requires safeguards.

“We think regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to reducing the risks of increasingly powerful models,” Altman said in his opening remarks before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.

Altman’s appearance comes after the viral success of his company’s chatbot tool, ChatGPT, renewed the arms race over AI and sparked concern from some lawmakers about the risks posed by the technology.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal opened the hearing on Tuesday by faking his own voice and explaining the potential dangers of the technology. The comments, written by ChatGPT, and the audio of Blumenthal’s voice, created using recordings of his actual floor talks, argued that AI cannot be allowed to emerge in uncontrolled environments.

Blumenthal explained that even if the SADGP produces an accurate reflection of the opinions of actual lawmakers, it could easily produce “a capitulation of Ukraine or an endorsement of Vladimir Putin’s leadership.” That, he said, “would have been really scary.”

A growing list of tech companies have been deploying new AI tools in recent months, capable of changing how we work, shop and interact with each other. But these same tools have drawn criticism from some of the biggest names in tech for disrupting millions of jobs, spreading misinformation and perpetuating bias.

In his comments Tuesday, Altman said the potential for AI to be used to manipulate voters and target disinformation is “one of my areas of greatest concern,” especially as “we’re going to have an election next year, and these models are getting better.”

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One way the U.S. government could regulate the industry is to create a licensing regime for companies working on more powerful AI systems, Altman said Tuesday. Altman said this “combination of licensing and testing requirements could be used for the development and release of AI models across a range of capabilities.”

Christina Montgomery, IBM’s vice president and chief privacy and trust officer, and Gary Marcus, a former New York University professor and self-described critic of AI “hype,” will testify Tuesday.

Montgomery cautioned against creating a new era of “move fast and break things,” the longtime mantra of Silicon Valley giants like Facebook. “The era of AI cannot be another era of ‘move fast and break things,'” Montgomery told lawmakers. Still, she said, “we don’t have to put the brakes on innovation.”

Both Altman and Montgomery have also argued that AI may eliminate some jobs, but also create new ones.

“There will be an impact on jobs,” Altman told Blumenthal. “We’re trying to be very clear about that, and I think it’s going to require a partnership between industry and government, but mostly government action, to figure out how we want to reduce that. But I’m very optimistic about how big the jobs are. The future will be.”

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman testifies at a Senate Judiciary Privacy, Technology and Legal Subcommittee hearing on ‘Oversight of AI: Rules for Artificial Intelligence’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, USA on May 16, 2023.

As CEO of OpenAI, Altman, more than any other person, has come to serve as the face of a new crop of AI products that can generate images and text in response to user prompts.

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Altman’s comments came a day after he met with more than 60 House lawmakers over dinner. At a bipartisan gathering of Republicans and Democrats, Altman found ChatGPT’s various uses “so entertaining,” that one person in the room described lawmakers as “confused” by the event.

Most of those in attendance broadly agreed that regulation of AI is necessary, the person added.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who covers Silicon Valley, told Altman at the dinner that AI is a tool, not an “organism,” and that AI can “help with tasks, not jobs.”

“Altman’s most helpful contribution was reducing the hype,” Khanna told CNN.

Reflecting how AI has taken Congress by storm, even as the Judiciary subcommittee questioned OpenAI and IBM, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a separate and concurrent hearing on the use of artificial intelligence in government.

Earlier this month, Altman was among several tech CEOs who met with Vice President Kamala Harris and, briefly, President Joe Biden, as part of White House efforts to emphasize the importance of ethical and responsible AI development.

In interviews this year, Altman has characterized himself as mindful of the risks posed by AI and “a little bit scared” of the technology. He and his company have pledged to move forward responsibly.

Others want Altman and OpenAI to proceed more cautiously. Elon Musk, who helped found OpenAI before leaving the group, joined dozens of tech leaders, professors and researchers in signing a letter calling on artificial intelligence labs like OpenAI to stop training more powerful AI systems for at least six months. “Profound Dangers to Society and Humanity.”

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Altman said he accepted parts of the letter. “I think it’s very important to move with caution and be more aggressive on security issues,” Altman said at an event last month. “I don’t think the letter is the optimal way to address that.”

— CNN’s Jennifer Korn contributed to this report.

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