Georgia lawmakers on both sides of the state Capitol are taking their first serious look this fall at how rapidly evolving artificial intelligence technology is likely to affect public policy.

A House subcommittee formed to study the issue already has begun holding hearings, while two Senate committees are set to launch a parallel effort Nov. 1.

“The first thing we need to do is educate our fellow legislators on what artificial intelligence is,” said Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, which will take up AI in conjunction with the Senate Science and Technology Committee.

“Some people believe AI is a disruptor similar to when Uber came out, or the iPhone, or even the internet. This will literally change everything we do.”

The development of AI technology is being widely seen as a double-edged sword. While it promises to increase workplace productivity and produce life-saving drugs, it also threatens to replace large numbers of jobs now done by humans and compromise cybersecurity.

So-called “deep fakes” generated by AI already are being used in criminal scams and political advertising, using false images and audio to fool people into thinking a family member or candidate for public office said something they didn’t or did something that never happened.

“Deep fakes can be really damaging,” said state Rep. Brad Thomas, R-Holly Springs, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Artificial Intelligence. “We’ve got to make sure the technology isn’t being used in ways that harm people.”

Bills related to artificial intelligence were introduced in at least 25 state legislatures this year, and 15 states adopted bills or resolutions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Examples include Maryland, which established a grant program to help manufacturers implement new AI technology, and Texas, which created an advisory council to monitor AI systems developed or employed by state agencies.

At the national level, a U.S. Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., held a hearing in June during which Ossoff described the growth of AI as an “existential threat” to U.S. labor markets and Americans’ right to privacy.

At two hearings last month, Ossoff raised the specter of AI being used in political ads to distort candidates’ views on issues and questioned technology experts about AI’s implications for national security.

Academia also has become heavily involved with artificial intelligence. Jonathan Shihao Ji, a computer science professor at Georgia State University, received a $10 million federal grant this month to advance research in AI with a focus on human-robot interaction.

“It has been claimed recently that AI is the new electricity,” Ji said. “It can empower and will transform almost every industry in the next several years.”

The Georgia Tech Research Corporation landed a $65 million federal grant last year to accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence by Georgia industries including semiconductors, batteries, food production, and aerospace.

Albers said he plans on bringing in AI experts from Microsoft and large consulting firms, as well as technology lawyers, to testify before the two Senate committees.

“We’re going to go through a methodical process on how [AI] will affect state government, education, health care, public safety, [and] how it will impact … local cities and counties and school systems,” he said.

Typically, legislative study committees that meet between General Assembly sessions come up with recommendations for lawmakers to consider during the next session. But Thomas said the legislature needs to move at a more deliberate pace on artificial intelligence to avoid unintended consequences.

“I want to make sure we do due diligence, not do something we didn’t intend to do,” he said.

Albers said any legislation the General Assembly develops to address AI will evolve over time.

“What we do in 2024 will be different from what we do in 2025, 2026, 2027, and 2028,” he said. “I want to be careful not to stifle innovation but with a sense of urgency so we can establish some parameters.”

Dave Williams writes for Capitol Beat News Service


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