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At an event held last month at IBM’s New York City headquarters yesterday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he would convene a series of AI “Insight Forums” to “lay down the foundation for AI policy.” The first-ever forums, to be held in September and October, would be in place of congressional hearings that focus on senators’ questions, which Schumer said would not work for AI’s complex issues around finding a path towards AI legislation and regulation.
“We want to have the best of the best sitting at the table, talking to one another and answering questions, trying to come to some consensus and some solutions,” he said at the event, “while senators and our staffs and others just listen.”
What he did not say, however, is that the first AI Insight Forum, at least, to be held on September 13, will be a closed-door event with no access by the press and the public. An announcement said that there will be a readout following its conclusion.
Schumer announced the forums, led by a bipartisan group of four senators, in June, along with his SAFE Innovation Framework for AI Policy. He said there will be a “kickoff” forum where “most of the leaders in the AI industry and some of the skeptics have agreed to come … they’ll spend a whole day batting this around with each other about where and when government should play a role.”
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VentureBeat reached out to Schumer and two of the other Senators co-organizing the Insight Forums, as well as a dozen of the participants in the September 13 meeting, to ask for their comment on the closed-door format.
“Senator Schumer’s office is your best bet for these questions,” said a representative from Meta. CEO Mark Zuckerberg will represent the company at the September 13 event.
While Schumer’s office has not yet responded, Senator Todd Young, (R-IN), a co-organizer of the event, provided this statement: “The AI Insight Forums will be a comprehensive way for Congress to explore key policy issues, opportunities, and threats related to artificial intelligence as we develop potential legislative solutions. The Forums’ style will allow us to explore, with the help of experts and stakeholders, a wide range of topics at a deep level while keeping committees of jurisdiction and their members in the driver’s seat when it comes to the legislative outcomes.”
22 participants include top Big Tech CEOs
The full list of participants includes:
- Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI
- Rumman Chowdhury, AI ethics expert and cofounder of the nonprofit Humane Intelligence
- Jack Clark, cofounder of Anthropic
- Clem Delangue, CEO of Hugging Face
- Eric Fanning, president and CEO of Aerospace Industries Association
- Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft
- Tristan Harris, cofounder of the Center for Human Technology
- Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia
- Alex Karp, cofounder and CEO of Palantir
- Arvind Krishna, CEO of IBM
- Janet Murguía, president of Unidos US
- Elon Musk, CEO of X/Tesla
- Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
- Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google
- Deborah Raji, AI researcher at University of California, Berkeley
- Charles Rivkin, chairman and CEO, Motion Picture Association
- Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google
- Elizabeth Shuler, president, AFL-CIO
- Meredith Stiehm, president of the Writer’s Guild
- Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers
- Maya Wiley, president and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
- Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Meta
The AI Insight Forums come as Congress has held public hearings over the past several months about the benefits and challenges posed by AI. In the first of several hearings in the spring, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman agreed with calls for a regulatory agency for AI and was hailed by committee chairperson Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) as an executive who “cares deeply and intensely.”
And Hugging Face CEO Clement Delangue, in testimony to the full U.S. House Science Committee in June for a hearing on Artificial Intelligence: Advancing Innovation Towards the National Interest, said in his opening statement that open science and open-source AI “are critical to incentivize and are extremely aligned with the American values and interests.”
Closed AI models and reports of ‘industrial capture’
The news of the closed-door format for the first AI Insight Forum also comes as issues around ‘black-box’ closed AI models and reports of AI ‘industrial capture‘ from companies like OpenAI and Anthropic have also made headlines in recent months.
It would seem that the closed-door format would continue to raise questions about a lack of transparency around potential AI regulation.
But Suresh Venkatasubramanian, a professor at Brown University professor and a former advisor to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told VentureBeat that on the one hand, people can be more direct when they aren’t constrained to public talking points.
“On the other hand, there’s no accountability for what’s said,” he explained. “So it’s a tradeoff.”
In June, the Center for AI and Digital Policy, which assesses national AI policies and practices, wrote a letter to Senator Schumer expressing concerns about the “closed-door briefings on AI policy” that had already taken place in the US Senate.
“While we support the commitment that you have made to advance bipartisan AI legislation in this Congress, we object to the process you have established,” the letter said. “The work of the Congress should be conducted in the open. Public hearings should be held. If the Senators have identified risks in the deployment of AI systems, this information should be recorded and made public. The fact that AI has become a priority for the Senate is even more reason that the public should be informed about the work of Congress.”
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