California's Governor Newsom is worried AI will be smothered in regulation

OTOH, 'If we chase a shiny object, we could put ourselves in a perilous position'

California Governor Gavin Newsom wants his state's legislators to know that he appreciates their efforts to put the home of Silicon Valley at the forefront of AI regulation, but he's still concerned heavy-handed laws could stifle innovation. 

Speaking at the GenAI Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday, Newsom said that while California is a technology leader, it could risk losing ground if Golden State watchdogs and lawmakers get too enthusiastic about curbing the emerging technology. 

"Our challenge is self-evident. We dominate in [the tech] space. I want to continue to dominate in this space," Newsom said. "I don't want to cede this space to other states or other countries."

Newsom argued California was already leading in terms of adopting AI for government use, citing the state's machine-learning experiments in traffic management and language access. Newsom said the state is currently developing more AI projects, including how to use the technology to tackle the homelessness crisis.

As for regulation, the governor and former San Francisco mayor said 35 of the 50 largest AI companies were founded in California, and that the US state has an obligation to lead in the AI regulatory space too - just within reason.

"If we over-regulate, if we overindulge, if we chase a shiny object we could put ourselves in a perilous position," Newsom said. 

The governor's statement could be read as a warning to legislators not to waste their time with spurious bills. After all, he has shown willingness to kill ostensibly reasonable tech regulations before to keep the rulebook thinner. 

Newsom vetoed legislation last year that would have required a human driver in commercial autonomous trucks, describing it as unnecessary. As for other bills Newsom could be referring to with his rather vague veto threat, several measures are working their way through California's legislature right now, including a bill requiring AI developers to disclose machine-learning decision making processes in instances where discrimination is possible. 

Other proposed legislative measures include building systems to assess AI safety and allow actors to break contracts if their digital likenesses are used without their consent. Whether the governor would sign or veto the various proposals is unknown, and his office didn't respond to questions.

Nonetheless, Newsom still appears to support some sort of AI regulation, given the industry's own cries for it.

"When you have the inventors of this technology - the godmothers and fathers - saying 'help, you need to regulate us,' that's a very different environment," Newsom said. "They're basically say[ing] 'we don't know really what we've done but you got to do something about it.'" 

What that is, and its extent, will be up to Newsom and legislators to hash out. ®

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