Ever since ChatGPT exploded in popularity last year, Silicon Valley’s titans have been embroiled in a race to be at the forefront of artificial intelligence.
Yet in Washington, lawmakers have struggled to keep up with the technology, which they are only beginning to understand.
On Wednesday, both sides collided in one of the tech industry’s most proactive shows of force in the nation’s capital. Elon Musk of Tesla, X and SpaceX, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta, Sam Altman of OpenAI, Sundar Pichai of Google, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Jensen Huang of Nvidia are among a dozen or so tech leaders in Washington for the bipartisan A.I. Insight Forum, organized by Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, along with labor union leaders and civil society groups.
The closed-door meeting is the first in a series of crash-course lessons on A.I. for lawmakers. More than that, it is an opportunity for tech leaders who represent companies with a collective value of more than $6.5 trillion to influence A.I.’s direction as questions swirl about its transformative and risky effects. And it is a chance to be seen as relevant and leading on the technology.
“Today, we begin an enormous and complex and vital undertaking: building a foundation for bipartisan A.I. policy that Congress can pass,” Mr. Schumer said in prepared opening remarks.
As tech chiefs filed past dozens of television cameras and reporters shouting questions into the Senate’s office building, Mr. Altman, who has warned about A.I.’s risks, said he was “impressed” by Congress’s sense of urgency and focus on the technology. “I think they want to do the right thing,” he said.
Others showed less worry about A.I.’s potential harms. When asked if Americans should trust tech companies to keep them safe from the technology, Alex Karp, the chief executive of the data analytics firm Palantir, said, “Yes. Because we’re good at it.”
The gathering punctuates a year of rapid developments in A.I., during which lawmakers and regulators have grappled with how the technology might alter jobs, spread disinformation and potentially develop its own kind of intelligence. While Europe is in the throes of drafting laws to regulate A.I., the United States has lagged. But the frenzy over the technology has prompted the White House, Congress and regulatory agencies to respond with A.I. safeguards and other measures.The White House is expected to release an executive order on A.I. this year and has held multiple meetings with tech executives in recent months. This week, it announced that a total of 15 companies had agreed to voluntary safety and security standards for their A.I. tools, including third-party security testing.
On Tuesday, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on A.I. legislation with Microsoft’s president and Nvidia’s chief scientist. And last week, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, and Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, announced a framework for A.I. legislation that calls for an independent office to oversee A.I., as well as licensing requirements and safety standards for the technology.
Tech executives have positioned themselves to shape A.I. regulations, but they disagree about what the rules should look like. Mr. Altman, the chief executive of OpenAI, which makes the ChatGPT chatbot, has met with more than 100 lawmakers over the past year. In May, he said in a Senate hearing that he supported the creation of an A.I. regulatory agency, licensing requirements and safety standards.
Yet IBM and Google have disagreed with having a separate agency for A.I. In April, Mr. Musk, who has called for a moratorium on the development of some A.I. systems, also met with Mr. Schumer and other lawmakers to discuss A.I.
The tech executives may compete for airtime during Wednesday’s meeting. Mr. Schumer invited 22 guests who appeared before dozens of lawmakers in the Senate office building’s Kennedy Caucus Room, where hearings on the sinking of the Titanic, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Watergate scandal unfolded.
At a crescent-shaped table extending nearly the length of the room, Mr. Schumer was flanked by Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, and Senator Todd Young, Republican of Indiana. Mr. Huang was seated next to Mr. Nadella, and Mr. Karp was next to Mr. Musk, who gave the media a thumbs up and held his hands up in a heart sign.
There are two sessions lasting six hours, with most of the tech chiefs gathered for the morning session to deliver opening statements and to join a discussion moderated by Mr. Schumer. Mr. Schumer has acknowledged the tech-knowledge deficit within Congress and has said he will lean on Silicon Valley leaders, academics and public interest groups to teach members about the technology.
In an interview this week, Mr. Hawley said that he was concerned that tech companies had too much sway over regulatory discussions and criticized Mr. Schumer’s decision to hold the A.I. meeting behind closed doors.
“This is the biggest gathering of monopolists since the Gilded Age and I’m disappointed it isn’t happening in public and not in a real hearing,” he said.
Mr. Rounds, who is helping to moderate the forum, said the executives were critical to Congress’s education.
“What we don’t want to do is regulate from a point of not having good information in the first place,” he said at a Washington Post event on Tuesday.
Labor union leaders and civil society groups have complained about the tech industry’s rush to roll out new products that may threaten jobs or steal intellectual property, and that have upended education.
“Workers are tired of being guinea pigs in an A.I. live experiment,” said Liz Shuler, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. union, who attended the meeting. “The labor movement knows A.I. can empower workers and increase prosperity, but only if workers are centered in its creation and the rules that govern it.”