Democrats propose new AI regulations to curb discrimination, task FTC with enforcement

A dozen Democratic senators have proposed new artificial intelligence regulations aiming to curb discrimination via automated tools affecting decisions about employment, education, housing and more.

The Algorithmic Accountability Act of 2023 would task the Federal Trade Commission with crafting AI regulations and give the agency more taxpayer money to hire 75 employees for enforcement, according to the senators.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Cory Booker, lead sponsors of the bill, fear AI tools are already discriminating against people in education, employment, healthcare and housing decisions.

“Our bill will pull back the curtain on these systems to require ongoing testing to make sure artificial intelligence that is responsible for critical decisions actually works, and doesn’t amplify bias based on where a person lives, where they go to church or the color of their skin,” said Mr. Wyden, Oregon Democrat.

Mr. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, said automated tools already understate the needs of Black patients at hospitals and discriminate against women and minorities in employment decisions.

Rather than have existing anti-discrimination policies address the concerns, the senators want the FTC to tackle the issue. The senators said their proposal would require companies to assess the impact of applying AI to their work and would direct the FTC to make rules about the assessments.

“This bill will help ensure greater transparency on the impacts of algorithms, and it will empower the FTC to better protect consumers,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill.

GOP lawmakers do not trust the FTC, and some Republicans question the wisdom of making new laws restricting AI.

Earlier this month, Sen. Ted Cruz wrote to FTC Chair Lina Khan with concern that her agency planned to aggressively police AI for discrimination and misinformation problems.

The Texas Republican subsequently said lawmakers and the Biden administration were touting fears of an AI doomsday to support expanding federal regulations.

Mr. Cruz told his Senate Commerce Committee colleagues that the main thing Congress has to fear about AI is Congress itself.

“The biggest existential risk we face is ourselves,” Mr. Cruz said in written remarks. “At this point, Congress understands so little about AI that it will do more harm than good.”

Mr. Cruz said the U.S. ought not follow Europe’s heavy-handed regulatory proposals, and urged American policymakers to “pause before we regulate.”

President Biden does not appear to be waiting. White House officials are preparing an executive order to address AI concerns for Mr. Biden to sign later this year, according to Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Mr. Biden’s team is poised to crack down on AI before Congress agrees upon any new AI-focused law. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said he has spoken about AI legislation with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy but cautioned against rushing any legislation forward. 

Companion legislation to the dozen Senate Democrats’ algorithm-focused AI bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Yvette Clarke, New York Democrat. A previous version of the Algorithmic Accountability Act stalled in Congress last year.

Source: WT