US senators' AI roadmap aims for $32B in R&D spending

'Reads like it was written by Sam Altman and Big Tech lobbyists,' say critics

A quartet of US senators have released an AI legislation roadmap that calls for billions of dollars in research funding, but largely kicks the can down the road on determining federal AI legislation.

The Driving US Innovation in Artificial Intelligence proposal [PDF] calls for as much as $32 billion per year to be spent on non-defense AI innovation. Led by Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Todd Young (R-IN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Mike Rounds (R-SD), said the funding would be phased in over a number of years. 

But that $32b figure isn't too far down the road - the roadmap said the senators concurred with the funding proposal put forward in 2021 by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which recommended $32b in non-defense funding by the 2026 financial year, which begins in September. That leaves little time to allocate such a huge chunk of funding. 

"Harnessing the potential of AI demands an all-hands-on-deck approach and that's exactly what our bipartisan AI working group has been leading," Schumer said of the plan. 

As attention-grabbing as $32b annual spend on AI is, that's the only thing the report seems to refer to with much urgency. Everything else - like federal AI legislation to combat issues with the technology - is largely kicked down the road and passed off to committees. 

The roadmap presents some other policy priorities alongside AI funding, with enforcing "existing laws for AI," addressing national security risks posed by AI, examining election security threats from AI and promoting competition all mentioned. The senators said their arrived at their roadmap after spending a year speaking to various stakeholders at a series of AI insight forums.

Most interestingly, the foursome also called for the creation of a federal data privacy framework - something the US has long lacked and continues to strive for without a whole lot of progress. As for how the senators see their proposals being enacted - well, that's someone else's problem. 

"Our working group was able to identify key areas of policy that have bipartisan consensus," Schumer said. "Now, the work continues with our Committees, Chairmen, and Ranking Members to develop and advance legislation." 

In other words, there are a lot of proposals in there, but it's going to be up to individual committees and other lawmakers to sort them out and advance legislation - the group even said as much to reporters Tuesday night when discussing the proposal.

They want individual committees to handle their own particular AI bills instead of considering a single large package that has to make it through both the House and Senate. Schumer apparently plans to address the use of AI to influence elections soon, but didn't provide a timeline. 

"AI is not only complex, but it's rapidly evolving and it's so broad in its impact," Schumer said yesterday. "We've never ever dealt with anything like this before." 

Critics, however, say the bill seems tailor-made to appeal to the wants of the AI wing of Big Tech. 

"Schumer's new AI framework reads like it was written by Sam Altman and Big Tech lobbyists," Fight for the Future director Evan Greer said of the roadmap.  

"The framework eagerly suggests pouring Americans' tax dollars into AI research and development," Greer added. "Meanwhile, there's almost nothing meaningful around some of the most important and urgent AI policy issues like the technology's impact on policing, immigration, and worker's rights."

Greer said there's "no serious discussion" of open source AI products in the roadmap either, which she said is indicative of a bias toward companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google. 

"Lawmakers in DC are less interested in regulating responsibly and more interested in … currying favor with those who stand to profit from unfettered AI," Greer added. "This roadmap leads to a dead end." 

Of course, with a presidential election looming, it's not clear if the House or Senate will be able to pass any meaningful AI legislation before November, especially if lawmakers up for reelection want to avoid wading into a hot button issue right before their constituents vote. ®

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