AI tech leaders make all the right noises at cozy closed-door Senate meeting

Zuckerberg and Musk played good cop, doomsday cop with the following media scrum.


The CEOs of leading AI companies — including Meta's Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft's Satya Nadella, Alphabet's Sundar Pichai, Tesla's Elon Musk and Open AI's Sam Altman — appeared before Congress once again on Wednesday. But instead of the normal bombast and soapboxing we see during public hearings about the dangers of unfettered AI development, this conversation reportedly took on far more muted tones.

In all, more than 20 tech and civil society leaders spoke with lawmakers at Wednesday's meeting, organized by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, to discuss how AI development should be regulated moving forward. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Todd Young (R-IN) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) who were also in attendance and reportedly working with the majority leader to draft additional proposals.

The word of the day: consensus. “First, I asked everyone in the room, ‘Is government needed to play a role in regulating AI?’ and every single person raised their hands even though they had diverse views,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday.

But as Bloomberg reports, "areas of disagreement were apparent throughout the morning session" with Zuckerberg, Altman and Bill Gates all differing on the risks posed by open-source AI (three guesses as to where old Monopoly Bill came down on that issue). True to form, Elon Musk got into it with "Berkeley researcher Deb Raji for appearing to downplay concerns about AI-powered self-driving cars, according to one of the people in the room," Bloomberg reports.

“Some people mentioned licensing and testing and other ways of regulation … there were various suggestions as to how to do it, but no consensus emerged yet,” Schumer said following the event.

“That’s probably the worst wedding to try to do seating for,” Humane Intelligence CEO Rumman Chowdhury said of the event as an attendee. She also noted that Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg did not interact and sat at opposite ends of the room-width table — presumably to keep the two bloodthirsty cagefighting CEOs from throwing down and Royal Rumbling the esteemed proceedings.

The meeting participants generally agreed that the federal government needs to “help to deal with what we call transformational innovation,” one unnamed participant suggested. That could entail creating a $32 billion fund that would assist with “the kind of stuff that maximizes the benefits of AI,” Schumer told reporters.

Following the seven-hour event, Facebook released Mark Zuckerberg's official remarks. They cover the company's long-standing talking points about developing and rolling out the technology "in a responsible manner," coordinating its efforts with civil society leaders (instead of say, allegedly fomenting genocide like that one time in Myanmar) and ensuring "that America continue to lead in this area and define the technical standard that the world uses."

In a departure from his rhetoric in recent years warning of perceived growing threats from China, Zuckerberg pointed to a new boogieman: "the next leading open source model ... out of Abu Dhabi."  This appears to have been a thinly-veiled reference to the UAE's recent entrance into AI development.

Elon Musk, famed libertarian and bloodsworn enemy of the FTC, warned reporters corralled outside of the hearing about the "civilizational risk" posed by AI. He wants a Federal Department of AI to help regulate the industry. He reportedly envisions it operating similarly to the FAA or SEC (two more agencies Musk has been variously scolded by) but did not elaborate beyond that. “I think this meeting could go down in history as important to the future of civilization,” he told reporters.