Politics

This congresswoman wants to save the US from the dark side of AI

Rep. Robin Kelly thinks a more joined-up approach to AI policy could reduce bias, protect privacy and help keep America a global power.

Rep. Robin Kelly​

Rep. Robin Kelly worries that U.S. AI policy is leaving its workers, as well as its geopolitical status, at risk.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Many people feel the U.S. government has not done enough to anticipate and invest in the rise of artificial intelligence. Rep. Robin Kelly, a Democrat from Illinois, is trying to fix that.

In recent weeks, Kelly and Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican, have announced a multipronged AI initiative involving hearings, white papers and, eventually, legislation to help the U.S. cultivate a comprehensive plan for the future of robots, the Internet of Things, facial recognition technology and more. Without this level of preparation, Kelly says, the U.S. is leaving its workers, as well as its geopolitical status, at risk.

"I want to make sure that my folks are not left behind," she told Protocol in a recent interview. "And then on a larger level, [make] sure that AI is a positive tool, not something negative that feeds into biases and the privacy issues and those kinds of things, and that it helps us stay prepared for whatever national security issues might arise."

Protocol spoke with Kelly about the worst-case scenario she envisions for the future of AI and what she thinks Congress can do about it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What do you think the Trump administration has gotten wrong in its approach to AI?

I would just say that the reason that we did this is because we feel that we need a comprehensive strategy. AI is not only coming, it's here, and we need to invest more in it, invest more in our folks so people are prepared and people have skills and people know how to work with AI or have jobs in AI.

I think it's more that we still need the administration to look at investing more in artificial intelligence and preparing the country. Even though it's already here, I still feel that people are afraid of it or don't want to think about it, or they just think, "Oh, AI's going to take my job away." Some jobs it will take away, but we need to prepare people for the jobs that AI will create.

Representing the Chicago area, even though we still do have a lot of manufacturing, it's more-advanced manufacturing. We have to train people, that's the point, to get the workforce ready. People have lost their jobs because of more-advanced manufacturing; they need to be more familiar with technology.

Your white papers have focused on AI in the workforce and national security so far. Why are these the areas you decided to focus on? And what topics will come next?

Will [Hurd], last Congress, was the chair of the [House Oversight] IT subcommittee, and I was the ranking member, so we had hearings on artificial intelligence, and these were some of the seeds that came out: workforce, national security, privacy and bias.

The idea is that these white papers will eventually be accompanied by some legislation that gets at the proposals in them?

That's what we're hoping, that this is just setting the table or a foundation for what's to come.

What is the worst-case scenario for you when you think about the future of AI in the U.S.? What's the future you're trying to avoid?

I want to make sure that my folks are not left behind, that they are qualified for the jobs that are coming. That's on a smaller level. And then on a larger level, making sure that AI is a positive tool, not something negative that feeds into biases and the privacy issues and those kinds of things, and that it helps us stay prepared for whatever national security issues might arise.

Your white paper about national security and AI focused a fair amount on China and how we need to improve our AI strategy in the U.S. in order to stay ahead of rivals like China and Russia. Some fear the recent efforts against Chinese tech seems to be far more about nationalism than actual U.S. national security concerns. Do you see any validity in those concerns — that we're just at the point of engaging in blind anti-China policy actions to both countries' detriment?

I do think we need to be careful. I know my farmers [in rural Illinois] want China as a trading partner. China is involved in the United States, so again, I hate to just say, "It's Chinese, it's no good," just to be that blunt about it, but also, China has given us reason to take an extra-hard look or investigate. But also there are other parts of our society that work well with China or have suffered because we've added extra tariffs and things like that. There's always a balance.

There are many questions around whether U.S. tech companies should partner with the military and with the police at all, as critics say their technology can be used to supercharge violence, harassment and discrimination both here and abroad. What is your response to those concerns?

High tech is how [the police] solve some of the crimes they solve. Just to ban [tech companies from working with] them completely, that would be hard to do.

I've been for gun safety reform since I got to Congress; I ran on that over seven years ago, and there's not just one way to look at it — it's not going to be just one thing that changes what we're dealing with. I'm looking at it saying, yes we need background checks, we need better police community relations, we need to give police the tools so they could more accurately see where shots have come from. We need to approach this in all different ways.

There were a few, narrow provisions related to facial recognition tech in the recent police reform package from Democrats. But do you think Congress is going to be able to get together comprehensive facial recognition legislation anytime soon? What's the latest you've heard about it?

We have to get it together at some point. That's part of this whole Black Lives Matter: police accountability conversation. We have to get that together so that African Americans, Black and brown people, are not singled out or blamed for crimes. That has to be a part of reform and what we look at, and making sure what information is let in is as unbiased as possible. Again, that's the importance of having a diverse workforce. Because then what is fed in is more diverse and more wide-ranging.

Are you optimistic that Congress could get together facial recognition legislation this year? Or what's the timeline?

This year's hard to say because of who's sitting in what seats, but if something changes, which I hope it does, then it will be a more positive sign.

For a while now, you've been raising concerns that the Small Business Association programs prevent equity investment in women- and minority-owned businesses. Can you talk me through the gap you're seeing in how the SBA programs are constructed and how you want to fix that?

It's really a simple rule, that if someone loans you money or makes an investment into your company and they say that they want a percentage of it — the "shark tank rule" — that people would be allowed to own a piece of the company without disqualifying the primary owner from being ineligible for SBA assistance.

That impacts women more because we need help with owning our businesses, getting our businesses off the ground, and to say that it has to be free and clear of anybody else, that affects our ability to grow our business. [The SBA currently requires businesses to be 51% unconditionally owned in order to qualify for particular aid programs. That rule can force businesses to choose between equity investments and government help.] We're still beating the drum.

Are there any tech- or cyber-related provisions that you most want to see in the next COVID-19 relief package?

There are big pushes for telehealth and telemedicine. We want to see that continue. More of it was done and then some of the rules and regs were waived. We have a bill that studies the effect of what has happened over this period of time, but also there are other bills that are more aggressive, like, "Let's just waive the rules and regulations." Telehealth done properly can be the great equalizer as far as racial disparities that we have in this country.

When we spoke to a group of Black doctors across the country, they talked about how patients, because of telemedicine, were able to keep their appointments and didn't have to worry about jumping on a bus, they didn't have to worry about child care. Then in my rural areas, telemedicine has definitely been used, particularly around behavioral health or counseling or therapy. We need to do whatever we can to enhance — again, if done right — the whole aspect of telemedicine.

What are the specific provisions you're pushing for on telehealth?

The payment being the same whether it's a face-to-face visit or a telemedicine visit — that's one thing that's certainly helped.

Tech companies are notoriously white and male, and they're not making much progress in changing that, despite their outward pledges to diversify. What role do you think the government should play in ensuring there's less discrimination and more diversity in tech?

We've had legislation where the government helps as far as scholarships or loan forgiveness for people [who] have gone into the STEM fields and tech fields. But also, the other thing is, a major role we can play, which we're trying to play through the infrastructure bill: We have to make sure there's broadband all over. In my district, some people have a very hard time getting online. There's some fundamental things we have to do so people even realize they can go into the tech field.

What is the future of privacy legislation in the U.S.?

I've battled myself with privacy because I really believe in one's privacy, but then it's tough when you're trying to solve a crime, or if you think the nation's security is at risk or question. I'm sure we'll delve back into it. Right now, COVID has taken over. We have to take care of the matter at hand. But I don't think that's something that's going to completely disappear off our radar. There'll be something that comes up anyways that brings it back.

Fintech

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 Reading Show 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 Reading Show less
FTA
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.
Enterprise

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 Reading Show 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 Reading Show 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.

Enterprise

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 Reading Show 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
Bulletins