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Politics

Congress is finally backing a national AI strategy

The House is poised to pass a resolution on AI from Reps. Will Hurd and Robin Kelly.

Congress is finally backing a national AI strategy

The U.S. does not currently have a national strategy to address the future of artificial intelligence.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The U.S. does not currently have a national strategy to address the future of artificial intelligence, leaving a leadership vacuum as technologies like facial recognition and machine learning platforms increasingly consume every aspect of daily life.

On Tuesday, the House will vote to change that, Protocol has learned. The lower chamber is poised to vote in favor of a resolution to create a national AI strategy, the culmination of years of research and months of rapid-fire negotiations across six congressional committees.

"Nobody thought we were going to be able to pull this together," Republican Rep. Will Hurd, who co-led the effort alongside Democratic Rep. Robin Kelly, told Protocol. "The good news is, guess what: Republicans and Democrats agree American leadership in artificial intelligence is important."

Hurd and Kelly introduced the resolution in September following extensive consultation with the Bipartisan Policy Center, which produced a series of deeply-researched white papers on AI-related topics including ethics, workforce development research and national security.

Those white papers ultimately informed the resolution, which is expected to pass near-unanimously. Hurd and Kelly, with the help of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, worked on the resolution with the six House committees with jurisdiction over the relevant AI-related topics.

"As other countries continue to invest heavily in AI technologies, U.S. leadership is not assured," Kelly said in a statement. "It's vital that we make these investments now in our workforce, national security, research and development, and oversight bodies to ensure that AI is a positive tool for society." She and Hurd have been working to carve out bipartisan paths forward on AI policy since 2018.

AI policy has been difficult for Congress to hash out, both because it's a complicated subject involving delicate policy considerations affecting the country's most powerful companies, and because Republicans and Democrats tend to scrap over the nuances of civil liberties, privacy and national security issues at the heart of AI legislation.

Michele Nellenbach, director of strategic initiatives with the Bipartisan Policy Center, said it was particularly challenging to bring stakeholders together over the issue of AI ethics in particular, which elicits some of the toughest questions around government oversight and how to deal with racially-biased technologies. One of the proposals that wound up in the resolution involves the need to invest in a diverse workforce.

"There's still more work to be done in that space," Nellenbach said. "But one of the recommendations seems pretty commonsense: We need to diversify the folks who are working with datasets and who are inputting that data because if they're all of one race and one gender, they may not be as attuned to some of the biases that an African-American woman might be."

Ultimately, in its final form, the resolution contains dozens of proposals for investing in and regulating AI in order to ensure the U.S. remains competitive with countries like China and Russia in the race for AI dominance.

The proposals range from vague — "federal programs should have necessary 22 safeguards and oversight processes" — to specific: "Supercomputing labs at the national laboratories and technology centers of the Department of Energy should expand opportunities for academics researchers."

One section calls for tax reforms to incentivize private sector research on AI; another lays out a framework for working with foreign researchers.

The resolution will provide a roadmap for the next Congress and beyond as lawmakers gingerly approach AI policymaking. And ultimately, as the 117th Congress sets its agenda, the resolution has primed the relevant committees to identify AI as one of their priorities in the new year, Hurd said.

This is Hurd's final major initiative as a member of Congress; he's retiring in January after making a name for himself as one of the most tech- and cybersecurity-savvy lawmakers on Capitol Hill since 2014.

Hurd's impending departure may have helped gin up some political will to get the resolution passed during the lame-duck session.

"The reality is, I don't have an office anymore, a lot of my staff has already transitioned to new offices," Hurd said. "I'm working out of a hotel. And part of this is, people know this is literally my last initiative and I'm running around calling folks."

He's hopeful that other lawmakers, including Kelly, will carry forward the resolution's proposals. "Here's what we always have to remember: This disruption with technologies like AI is going to happen," Hurd said. "We have to be prepared for it."

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