Interviews & Profiles

Chuck Schumer is taking the lead on AI regulation

In remarks at a Tech:NYC and IBM event, the U.S. Senate majority leader laid out the big pieces of his AI framework.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Understanding the potential of artificial intelligence in our daily lives is so important that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cleared space on his calendar to put together a framework for how Congress can regulate responsible use of AI. In September, Schumer hosted a forum with lawmakers and tech CEOs on safeguards needed before the 2024 elections. Some senators have sought to develop their own policies governing AI technologies, but Schumer has cautioned against drafting legislation too quickly without learning all the necessary facts. The following remarks were made by Schumer at an event with Tech:NYC and IBM and shared by his office with City & State.

What did you determine was most essential to include in your AI framework that you circulated earlier this year?

My SAFE Innovation framework seeks to strike a balance. It calls for security, accountability, protecting our foundations, and, lastly, explainability, one of the most important and most difficult technical issues in all of AI.

Security means keeping Americans safe. In the hands of foreign adversaries – especially autocracies – or domestic rogue groups interested in extortionist financial gain or political upheaval, the dangers of AI could be extreme. Security also means we need security for America’s workforce, because AI – particularly generative AI – is already disrupting the way tens of millions of people make a living. This is going to be a huge challenge, and all of us must be part of the solution.

Accountability means instilling the right guardrails to keep kids safe, to ensure AI can’t be used to exploit people and doesn’t perpetuate bias, and to protect the (intellectual property) of creators, of businesses and of artists.

Foundations means making sure these systems align with our values. It means protecting our democracy and our electoral systems. We could soon live in a world where political campaigns deploy totally fabricated – yet totally believable – images of candidates, distorting their thoughts and words and deeds.

Finally, we have to make sure we can explain these systems, perhaps the thorniest but most important issue. When you ask an AI system a question and it gives you an answer – perhaps an answer you weren’t expecting – you want to know where that answer came from. You should be able to ask, “Why did AI choose this answer, over some other answer that could have also been a possibility?”

What are your biggest concerns?

We must come up with a plan that encourages – not stifles – innovation, and that means asking some important questions about how we encourage innovation.

One: What is the proper balance between collaboration and competition among the entities developing AI? How do we ensure innovation and competition is open to everyone, not just the few big powerful companies? The government must play a role ensuring open, free and fair competition, and ensure that small companies are not crowded out and miss out on the opportunity to grow and compete.

Two: How much federal intervention must there be? Is federal intervention to encourage innovation necessary at all, or should we let the private sector develop on its own?

Three: What is the proper balance between private AI systems and open source AI systems?

But if people think AI innovation is not done safely, if there are not adequate guardrails in place, it will stifle or even halt innovation altogether.

How can New York contribute to the growth of AI technology?

By some estimates, New York has 13% of our nation’s AI workforce, which is more than double our share of the U.S. population. It gives us a huge edge to become one of the leading AI hubs in the nation, and the ripple effects across the rest of New York’s economy – across finance, advertising, education, medicine and so many other industries – could be colossal.

And we have another edge too: Young bright tech professionals are flocking to New York.

New York is one of the top destinations for young tech talent in America, and it’s on their shoulders that AI’s newest innovations and breakthroughs will stand. People look to our city and see a place where their careers can reach new heights, where they can contribute to world-changing ideas in AI, all within the confines of a global city.

No other city in the country can match quite what we have, and as the AI sector continues to grow, our city could continue to prosper in incredible ways.

There’s no reason why New York – with all its workforce, with all its entrepreneurial vigor, with all its other industries like finance and advertising and medicine – shouldn’t be at the center of the AI revolution. 

New York can ensure the U.S. continues to lead in AI innovation, from developing and manufacturing next-generation chips critical to AI to researching new uses for the technology in health, education and more.

What legislation should be passed or regulations implemented around the use of AI in government or around the use of AI in general?

We are going to work very hard to come up with comprehensive legislation. But success is not guaranteed. AI is unlike anything that we’ve dealt with before, and it may be exceedingly difficult for legislation to tackle every single issue. And I am proud that Sens. (Mike) Rounds, (Martin) Heinrich, and (Todd) Young are working with me on this effort to ensure that we are forging a bipartisan path forward.

Like many great undertakings in our nation’s history, we must move ahead with bipartisanship and cooperation. AI is one issue that must lie outside the typical partisan fights of Congress. The changes AI will bring will not discriminate between left or right or center. So, bipartisanship will be key. That is the only way our efforts will succeed.

There are those who fear AI’s immense power and conclude it’s better to turn back, to go no further down this unknown road. We all know it’s not that simple or that easy. The AI revolution is going to happen, with us or without us.

If we can promote innovation, but make sure that it is safe – if America leads the way – the future will be far better, brighter and safer than if it happens without us.

What are the ways that the federal government is and could utilize AI in coming years?

Our jobs as legislators will be to listen to the experts and to learn as much as we can so we can translate these ideas into legislative action.

Our kickoff forum will focus on where and when the government should play a role. After our kickoff forum, where leaders of industry will participate, we will follow up with nine different insight forums, where various experts will lend their expertise in each area. 

Our nine insight forums will focus on copyright, intellectual property and liability; promoting innovation; high-risk AI applications and bias; workforce implications and opportunities; national security; risk, guarding against doomsday scenarios and alignment; privacy and AI’s role in our social world; transparency and explainability; elections and democracy.

No question about it, this is all exceedingly ambitious. We must exercise humility.