OpenAI CEO Sam Altman tells US Senate that AI regulation is 'critical'

Mr Altman says artificial intelligence's role in election integrity is 'significant area of concern'

OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman speaks before a Senate subcommittee in Washington. Reuters
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Sam Altman, chief executive of OpenAI – the start-up behind ChatGPT – told a US Senate panel on Tuesday that regulating artificial intelligence was “critical”.

He urged Congress to impose new rules on Big Tech, despite deep political divisions that for years have blocked legislation aimed at regulating the internet.

For months, companies large and small have raced to bring increasingly dexterous AI to market, throwing endless data and billions of dollars at the challenge.

Some critics fear the technology will exacerbate societal harms, among them prejudice and misinformation, while others warn AI could end humanity itself.

Mr Altman has since become the global face of AI as he both pushes out his company's technology, including to Microsoft, and warns that the work could have nefarious effects on society.

“OpenAI was founded on the belief that artificial intelligence has the potential to improve nearly every aspect of our lives, but also that it creates serious risks,” Mr Altman told the Senate judiciary subcommittee hearing.

He insisted that in time, generative AI developed by OpenAI one day will “address some of humanity's biggest challenges, like climate change and curing cancer”.

However, given the risk of misinformation, destroying human jobs and other problems, “we think that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models”, he said.

Mr Altman suggested the US government might consider a combination of licensing and testing requirements before the release of powerful AI models.

In addition, he said that the use of AI to interfere with election integrity was a “significant area of concern”.

“I think we also need rules, guidelines, on what’s expected in terms of disclosure from a company providing a model,” Mr Altman said about elections and AI.

“I am nervous about it.”

He also recommended labelling and increased global co-ordination in setting up rules over the technology.

“I think the US should lead here and do things first, but to be effective we do need something global,” he said.

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Congress, likewise, is seeking action to further the technology's benefits while limiting its misuse, but there is as yet no consensus.

An OpenAI staffer recently proposed the creation of a US licensing agency for AI, which could be called the Office for AI Safety and Infrastructure Security, or Oasis, Reuters reported.

Subcommittee chairman Richard Blumenthal opened the session by playing a recording of a convincing AI version of himself reading out remarks crafted by ChatGPT.

Artificial intelligence technologies “are more than just research experiments”, he said.

“They are no longer fantasies of science fiction – they are real and present.”

He said it was amazing that artificial intelligence could produce such a realistic audio clip, but clarified the potential applications were potentially terrifying.

“What if I’d asked it, and what if it had provided an endorsement of Ukraine surrendering or [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s leadership?” Mr Blumenthal suggested.

“The prospect is scary.”

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: May 17, 2023, 6:28 AM