Senators on Tuesday will grill OpenAI CEO Sam Altman about the "perils and promise" of artificial intelligence as part of a push to better understand this quickly emerging technology and impose some kind of regulatory regime around it.
Altman will testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, which will mark his first time as a witness at a public congressional hearing. His testimony comes several weeks after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is working on a regulatory blueprint and as several members of the House and Senate have talked about the need for rules of the road for AI.
Members of the subcommittee have made it clear over the last week that they want to learn more about AI to make sure it's used safely and responsibly. The top Republican on the subcommittee, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told Fox News Digital on Monday that he's worried about what role AI could play in the upcoming election cycle.
"We've got to understand the reach of AI and its significance. I mean, I want to know, are we going to be able to have free, open and honest elections in this country going forward? Or is AI going to so control the information that we're able to get as voters that basically we're going to be spoon-fed everything by some algorithm and the people who control it?" Hawley asked.
He said the possibility of economic upheaval and job losses is another issue Congress needs to consider.
"I want to understand better what it means for work," Hawley said. "I mean, does this mean that that AI soon is going to be replacing workers – particularly I'm concerned about blue-collar workers – and gobbling up jobs that ought to go to our workers in this country?"
"This idea that we can just trust the Big Tech companies to do the right thing is laughable. I mean, we've seen that with social media now. ‘Just trust us,’ they've been saying for years while they've been poisoning our kids with their imagery, with representations of suicide, leading them toward drug abuse," Hawley added.
Subcommittee Chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said when he announced the event, "Artificial intelligence urgently needs rules and safeguards to address its immense promise and pitfalls."
"This hearing begins our subcommittee’s work in overseeing and illuminating AI’s advanced algorithms and powerful technology. I look forward to working with my colleagues as we explore sensible standards and principles to help us navigate this uncharted territory," Blumenthal added.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., another member of the subcommittee, said she plans to ask Altman about AI’s effect on content creators, specifically the music industry.
"One issue that is top of mind for Tennesseans is how generative AI is impacting the entertainment industry, especially songwriters and musicians. The content creators who call Tennessee home should be able to decide if their copyrighted songs, images, and art can be used to train AI models, or if their voice and likeness can be used," Blackburn said in an emailed statement.
"I plan to ask Altman about how he plans to protect content creators as he develops his AI products. We know Big Tech platforms like YouTube take copyrighted content with no real hesitation – we need to make sure that OpenAI and other AI platforms don’t do that," she said.
The hearing’s other witnesses are Christina Montgomery, IBM’s top official for privacy and trust, and New York University professor emeritus Gary Marcus.
In addition to his testimony before the Senate on Tuesday, Altman is also expected to give a closed-door briefing to House members about AI.
Altman’s last high-profile visit to Washington came with an invitation from Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss AI at the White House along with the CEOs of Google, Microsoft and Anthropic.
In a readout sent after that meeting, the White House revealed that President Joe Biden made a surprise appearance "to underscore that companies have a fundamental responsibility to make sure their products are safe and secure before they are deployed or made public."