Suddenly, everyone wants to talk about how to regulate AI

This story originally appeared in The Algorithm, our weekly newsletter on AI. To get stories like this in your inbox first, sign up here. It feels as though a switch has turned on in AI policy. For years, US legislators and American tech companies were reluctant to introduce—if not outright against—strict technology regulation. Now both have…
Suddenly, everyone wants to talk about how to regulate AI

Last week, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman appeared before a US Senate committee to talk about the risks and potential of AI language models. Altman, along with many senators, called for international standards for artificial intelligence. He also urged the US to regulate the technology and set up a new agency, much like the Food and Drug Administration, to regulate AI. 

For an AI policy nerd like myself, the Senate hearing was both encouraging and frustrating. Encouraging because the conversation seems to have moved past promoting wishy-washy self-regulation and on to rules that could actually hold companies accountable. Frustrating because the debate seems to have forgotten the past five-plus years of AI policy. I just published a story looking at all the existing international efforts to regulate AI technology. You can read it here

I’m not the only one who feels this way. 

“To suggest that Congress starts from zero just plays into the industry’s favorite narrative, which is that Congress is so far behind and doesn’t understand technology—how could they ever regulate us?” says Anna Lenhart, a policy fellow at the Institute for Data Democracy and Policy at George Washington University, and a former Hill staffer. 

In fact, politicians in the last Congress, which ran from January 2021 to January 2023, introduced a ton of legislation around AI. Lenhart put together this neat list of all the AI regulations proposed during that time. They cover everything from risk assessments to transparency to data protection. None of them made it to the president’s desk, but given that buzzy (or, to many, scary) new generative AI tools have captured Washington’s attention, Lenhart expects some of them to be revamped and make a reappearance in one form or another. 

Here are a few to keep an eye on. 

Algorithmic Accountability Act

This bill was introduced by Democrats in the US Congress and Senate in 2022, pre-ChatGPT, to address the tangible harms of automated decision-making systems, such as ones that denied people pain medications or rejected their mortgage applications.