Software companies seek AI law before Congress goes it alone

A trade group for AWS, Microsoft and other companies wants a seat at the table as lawmakers look to tackle bias in artificial intelligence.

Software companies seek AI law before Congress goes it alone

The group is trying to stay ahead of tech regulators who have begun deciding how to rein in the algorithms on which many of the companies are basing their futures.

Photo: Brian Keith Lorraine/Getty Images

A major tech group representing companies such as AWS, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle is calling for Congress to enact legislation that would require companies to assess and minimize bias in "high-risk" uses of artificial intelligence.

The group, known as the BSA or The Software Alliance, made its plea on Tuesday alongside a new report on identifying and lessening bias in AI that urges organizations to look at potential bias in project conception, historical data, processing information and deployment, as well as assess human oversight and the structure of compliance systems. The group is trying to stay ahead of tech regulators who have begun deciding how to rein in the algorithms on which many of the companies are basing their futures.

The BSA cites health care, finance and transportation as areas "where the severity and/or likelihood of potential harm is high," but its definition of risk for a particular AI system revolves around potential impact, purpose, level of human oversight and training data in a way that lawmakers across the world have signaled they might find too vague.

Regulators are already starting to target AI. In April, the European Commission proposed impact assessments, human oversight and quality verification for high-risk systems used in employment, immigration, education, law enforcement and facial recognition, among others. Earlier this month, King County, Washington — which includes Seattle and Microsoft's headquarters — became the latest municipal region to ban almost all government uses of facial recognition, following in the footsteps of several other cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Congress, too, is considering action.

The potential regulatory clampdown, and the memory of how other rules relating to technology have spread, were important reasons for the BSA to urge lawmakers to act and to seek a seat at the bargaining table, the trade group said.

"Certainly, those lessons loomed largely in our world," said Christian Troncoso, a senior director for policy at BSA, who helped spearhead what he described as a nearly yearlong project to develop the accompanying report. "I think there's just an acknowledgement within our industry and among our member companies that good regulation can only really arise if there is a good faith effort by us to contribute to the process."

The BSA, formerly known as the Business Software Alliance, is already working to pass a federal privacy law that would overrule state statutes, including the strict California Consumer Privacy Act, in the hopes of easing member companies' compliance obligations, particularly as other states pass their own laws. Proponents of state privacy laws have said they're often stronger than what Congress can produce, but the industry dreads the idea of another state-by-state or country-by-country regulatory "patchwork," such as the pile of laws that exist on data breach notifications.

"Our hope is that if we can work with everyone, we're going to arrive at a place where there's more of a harmonized approach on these issues," Troncoso said. "We want to just ensure that all of these processes are informed by our member companies' experience developing the technologies."

'Drumbeat of stories'

Companies spend plenty of their lobbying time trying to block new laws and regulations outright, but when lawmakers and agencies become determined to act, firms and their trade groups often sit down to negotiate narrower or more workable rules. Although tech companies lobbied on CCPA, for instance, the sector has long felt that, thanks to a groundswell of public support, it passed too quickly for the industry to get much of what it wanted. The efforts to participate themselves can also become good PR, or a way to bend laws and regulations toward particular competitors.

While the BSA broadly endorses the idea of legislation, the group doesn't mention a specific bill in Congress. In the last Congress, Sens. Ron Wyden and Cory Booker put forth a bill similar to the BSA's current ask, which would require companies to perform similar assessments, including looking at AI systems for fairness, accuracy and their impact on privacy and security.

At the moment, legislators, regulators, civil rights groups and even other companies worry about an array of examples, from photo cropping to false arrest, where AI systems reproduced or exacerbated discrimination against people on the basis of race, origin, religion, sex, disability and other factors.

"The report itself I think was prompted by the general anxiety and steady drumbeat of stories that have emerged in recent years that have understandably shaken public confidence," Troncoso said.

For instance, in its report, the BSA cited research that examined whether Mac and PC ownership can predict the ability to repay a loan — but device brand ownership appears correlated with race, meaning AI systems including this factor would introduce "a significant risk of" bias. The concerns are particularly acute when AI systems make decisions about law enforcement, financial products, housing, education, health care and other domains that are crucial to full, equitable participation in society and that have long suffered from deep and often deadly discrimination.

Troncoso says that the BSA's framework can go a long way to mitigating these harms for organizations looking to begin assessments, and that it can provide a basis for the legislation the group is seeking.

The group, though, hasn't developed specific legislative text or a preferred method of enforcement in the law, Troncoso said, and won't be able to "foist" any quick solutions on Congress. He added the work could take years, and that the BSA will be seated beside lawmakers and groups that would like to see a strict approach to the industry.

"We don't profess to have all of the answers for what a legislative framework should look like," he said. "The only way that legislation is going to work is if organizations like ours partner with the range of stakeholders that have equities in this debate."


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories