(CNN) OpenAI CEO Sam Altman urged lawmakers to regulate AI during a Senate hearing on Tuesday, describing the technology’s current boom as a potential “printing moment” but one that requires safeguards.
“We believe that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models,” Altman said in his opening remarks to a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.
Altman’s emergence follows the wild success of his company’s chatbot tool ChatGPT, which has renewed the arms race over artificial intelligence and raised concerns among some lawmakers about the risks posed by the technology.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal kicked off the hearing Tuesday with a fake recording of his voice, illustrating the potential dangers of the technology. The recording, which included notes written by ChatGPT and an audio of Blumenthal’s voice produced using recordings of his actual speeches, argued that AI could not be allowed to emerge in an unregulated environment.
Blumenthal explained that while ChatGPT provided an accurate reflection of the views of a real legislator, it could easily have produced “an endorsement of the surrender of Ukraine or the leadership of Vladimir Putin.” This he said, “It would have been really scary.”
A growing list of tech companies have deployed new AI tools in recent months, with the potential to change the way we work, shop, and interact with each other. But these same tools have also drawn criticism from some of the biggest names in tech for the potential to disrupt millions of jobs, spread misinformation and perpetuate bias.
Altman said Tuesday that one way the US government can regulate the industry is to create a licensing regime for companies that work on the most powerful AI systems. Altman said that this “combination of licensing and testing requirements” can be applied to “the development and release of AI models above the capability threshold.”
Also testifying Tuesday will be Christina Montgomery, IBM’s vice president and chief privacy and trust officer, as well as Gary Marcus, a former New York University professor who has described himself as a critic of AI “noise.”
Montgomery is expected to urge Congress to adopt a “micro-regulation” approach to AI based on specific use cases, and to suggest that lawmakers push companies to test how their systems address bias and other concerns — and disclose those findings.
As CEO of OpenAI, Altman has become, perhaps more than any other figure, the face of a new set of AI products that can generate images and text in response to user prompts.
Altman’s comments come a day after he met more than 60 House of Representatives for dinner. The bipartisan caucus, which has an even split of Republicans and Democrats, saw Altman demonstrate various uses of ChatGPT “much to his amusement,” according to a person in the room who described lawmakers as “energized” by the event.
The person added that most attendees widely acknowledged that regulation of AI would be necessary.
California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, whose district includes Silicon Valley, said Altman stressed over the dinner that AI is a tool, not a “creature” and that AI “can help with tasks, not jobs.”
“Altman’s most useful contribution was cutting down on the noise,” Khanna told CNN.
Earlier this month, Altman was one of several tech CEOs who met with Vice President Kamala Harris and, briefly, President Joe Biden as part of a White House effort to stress the importance of ethical and responsible AI development.
In interviews this year, Altman has presented himself as someone who understands the dangers posed by artificial intelligence and is even “a little afraid” of the technology. He and his company have vowed to move forward responsibly.
Others want Altman and OpenAI to move more carefully. Elon Musk, who helped found OpenAI before dropping out of the group, has joined dozens of technology leaders, professors and researchers in signing a letter calling for AI labs like OpenAI to stop training the most powerful AI systems for at least six months, citing “profound risks to society.” and humanity.”
Altman said he agreed with parts of the letter. “I think treading with caution and the increased rigor of safety issues is really important,” Altman said at last month’s event. “The message I don’t think was the best way to counter it.”
— CNN’s Jennifer Korn contributed to this report.
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