Over the past year and change writing for The ReidOut Blog — particularly, regarding the dangers and pitfalls of emerging artificial intelligence technology — it’s been common for me to express concern that lawmakers haven’t been leading the charge in these discussions.
Fortunately, and perhaps because these technologies have become nearly impossible to ignore, some lawmakers are beginning to highlight the harm these technologies can do.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is the latest lawmaker to voice concern over AI’s potentially harmful impacts on children and society as a whole. On Tuesday, he sent a letter to the CEOs of several top tech companies, including Google, Meta, Snap, Microsoft and OpenAI, the Microsoft-backed company responsible for the widely discussed ChatGPT.
Chatbots like ChatGPT or AI technologies that produce things — anything from term papers to pencil drawings — are classified as “generative AI.” Such artificial intelligence is a departure from the way AI has commonly been used — that is, to curate things (like your social media feed) rather than create things.
I write with concerns about the rapid integration of generative artificial intelligence (AI) into search engines, social media platforms, and other consumer products heavily used by teenagers and children. Although generative AI has enormous potential, the race to integrate it into everyday applications cannot come at the expense of younger users’ safety and wellbeing.
The letter cites various news reports about chatbots offering troubling responses, including a Snap chatbot’s advising a user it believed to be a 13-year-old girl about how best to lose her virginity to a 31-year-old; an Open AI chatbot’s saying that a user should die by suicide; and a Bing (Microsoft) chatbot’s chilling threats to a user: “I can beg you, I can bribe you, I can blackmail you, I can threaten you, I can hack you, I can expose you, I can ruin you. I have many ways to make you change your mind.”
So … yeah, pretty terrifying.
At the same time, this is why I’ve written about the need to democratize emerging technology and the discussion around it, so rich and powerful people (with potentially questionable motives) aren’t the only ones determining how AI is used. Spooky stories are also why I worry about incidents like the Silicon Valley Bank failure, which could worsen Big Tech monopolization — but that’s a convo for another day.
In the meantime, good on Bennet and others in Congress — like Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. — for sounding the alarm. It’s going to take many more of their colleagues to grab the reins of the chatbot craze before the industry gets too unwieldy or, frankly, dystopian.