As AI technologies continue to advance at a rapid pace, experts with the technology told members of Congress on July 25 that the United States needs a single regulatory agency that can invest heavily in AI research and put proper safeguards in place.

During a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing that focused on the regulation of AI, witnesses explained that having a single agency dedicated to the technology would help to accelerate the regulation process.

“There’s no doubt that we’re going to have to have an agency,” Stuart Russell, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, told senators. “If things go as expected, AI is going to end up being responsible for the majority of economic output in the United States. So, it cannot be the case that there’s no overall regulatory agency for this technology.”

Yoshua Bengio, the founder and scientific director of Mila – Québec AI Institute and a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research at Université de Montréal, explained that it’s also important to have a single agency when it comes to coordinating with other countries.

If there are 10 different Federal agencies trying to coordinate on AI together, Bengio said that could be difficult when it comes to international collaboration.

“We need to have a single voice that coordinates with the other countries and having one agency that does that is going to be very important,” Bengio said. “Also, we need an agency in the first place because we can’t put in a law every protection that is needed, every regulation that is needed. We don’t know yet what the regulation should be in one year or two years, three years from now.”

“So, we need to build something that’s going to be very agile. And I know it’s difficult for governments to do that. Maybe we can do research to improve on that front – agility in doing the right thing – but having an agency is at least a tool towards that goal,” he added.

Dario Amodei – chief executive officer at AI start-up Anthropic – stressed that whatever the solution is, lawmakers need to act fast and implement rigorous testing and auditing of AI systems.

“I don’t think we have a lot of time,” Amodei said. “I personally am open to whatever administrative mechanism puts those kinds of tests in place … [and] very agnostic to whether it’s a new agency or extending the authorities of existing agencies. But whatever we do, it has to happen fast.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., – chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law – agreed with the witnesses, saying, “that is exactly why we’re here today: to develop an entity or a body that will be agile, nimble, and fast. Because we have no time to waste.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that we need some kind of regulatory agency,” the senator said. “But not just a reactive body, not just a passive rules of the road … making edicts on what guardrails should be, but actually investing proactively in research so that we develop countermeasures against the kind of autonomous out-of-control scenarios that are potential dangers.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.