Education Before Regulation

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is the hot buzz word these days. We see it in the movies, in our homes and in the news. Many people are expressing concerns about how AI will impact jobs in the workforce. Others are convinced of the benefits of AI, from self-driving cars to helping doctors find cures for debilitating diseases. Either way, AI continues to grow as part of our society, and how AI develops and integrates into our future requires legislators and regulators to understand its role and potential impact in a thoughtful and serious way. However, it is premature to call for regulation.

Once enacted, regulations often have a long-term affect. And though easily created, they can be difficult to eliminate. Before the government rushes into regulating AI, we have an obligation to understand and evaluate it. Regulating without full comprehension is like using hedge clippers when a scalpel will do. Awareness through education is the crux of any potential regulation because it informs the interactions of the government and the industry. This is why my colleague Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and I created the bipartisan Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus. We bring different political perspectives to this issue, but we both agree that educating policymakers is a critical first step in addressing AI.

The AI Caucus is the perfect forum for legislators to be educated on the applications of AI in various applications, understand the issues and policy impacts surrounding AI and to ask the hard questions concerning the matter. The caucus provides an opportunity to learn the benefits as well as gauge the risk versus reward in this emerging field. We need to visit the places where AI is used and talk about the safety of interactions. Congress’ attention in this area is critical as a precursor to any appropriate policy decisions being made.

There are a host of issues surrounding AI, including safety, cybersecurity, ethics, information security and data security, to name a few. The AI Caucus is an important venue to tap into the knowledge compiled by stakeholders in this universe and educate policy makers. Therefore, when the time comes, appropriate policy decisions can be made. We must educate before we regulate. Too often the government jumps into regulating an industry without taking the time to fully understanding how the industry works — consequently causing unintended outcomes and stifling innovation.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and IBM combined spent more than $54 billion in 2015 on research and development, much of it on AI. Smaller companies, universities and the federal government are also investing significant time and money into the development of AI as well. AI touches the breadth of the economy: transportation, health care, education, agriculture, finance, law, manufacturing, cybersecurity, defense and space exploration. The way we address AI in agriculture will be different from the way we address it in education. As with any emerging issue, we cannot rush to act and run the risk that a hastily written rule will have broadly sweeping, negative impacts on markets or jurisdictions it shouldn’t.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform our society and provide America with significant technological advantages in the global market through tremendous safety innovations like self-driving vehicles that reduce crashes and save lives or help accelerate the diagnosis and treatment process in healthcare. Leading innovators like Elon Musk and Bill Gates also advise that the risks outweigh the benefits. Of course, we must carefully scrutinize this developing field; we must understand it thoroughly so that policy decisions are a result of thorough education and awareness. I look forward working with my AI Caucus colleagues in exploring this technology and ensuring AI is integrated as safe and advantageous technology.

Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and sits on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

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