Congress debates the role of artificial intelligence in America

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Lawmakers on Capitol Hill met Tuesday to discuss advancements in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, wanted to discuss the new and emerging role of AI in the nation’s growing digital environment.

Artificial intelligence is defined as “a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers,” and “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior,” according to Merriam-Webster’s. But it was also evident during Tuesday’s hearing that the definition and uses for AI are still evolving.

Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said the increase in data collected from Americans through the use of the internet and mobile devices has contributed to the advances in the industry.

“Although AI applications have been around for decades, recent advancements, particularly in machine learning, have accelerated in their capabilities because of the massive growth in data gathered from billions of connected devices and the digitization of everything,” Wicker said. “Developments in computer processing technologies and better algorithms are also enabling AI systems to become smarter and perform more unique tasks.”

During his opening remarks, he also cautioned the risks of automating common processes through AI.

“These are important considerations to ensure that the decisions made by AI systems are based on representative data that does not unintentionally harm vulnerable populations or act in an unsafe anticompetitive or biased way,” Wicker said. “So, there is a lot to think about.”

The subcommittees’ Ranking Member Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, also expressed his concern for certain aspects of AI calling it a “black box.”

“It can make decisions and come to conclusions without showing its reasoning. There are also known cases of algorithms that discriminate against minority groups,” Schatz said. “And when you start to apply the systems to criminal justice, health care or defense, lack of transparency and accountability is worrisome.”

The senator encouraged lawmakers not to purchase AI systems for the government until there is a stronger understanding of its capabilities. Schatz said that U.S. policy needs to be updated to adapt to the advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

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