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Putting the Public First: The Road to Accountable AI

 |  May 30, 2024

By: Nicholas García (Public Knowledge)

A coalition of public interest and civil society organizations has released “Put the Public in the Driver’s Seat: Shadow Report to the US Senate AI Policy Roadmap,” in response to the Senate’s recently unveiled AI legislative roadmap. While the Senate’s roadmap marks significant bipartisan progress, it leaves crucial questions unanswered. The Shadow Report urges Congress to address these issues directly, and we support many of its goals, emphasizing the urgency of developing AI policies that serve the public good. The report highlights how AI can exacerbate inequality, centralize power, and harm vulnerable communities, a concern long underscored by public interest and tech accountability advocates. At Public Knowledge, we believe AI can be a tremendous force for good, but this requires a bold vision that prioritizes the public’s interests at every step.

Led by Senator Schumer, the Senate’s Insight Forums have lacked transparency, predominantly featuring industry leaders while marginalizing broader civil society voices. Public Knowledge was among the few civil society organizations invited to participate, and this privilege heightens our responsibility to advocate for broader public interest representation in these discussions. Shaping technology policy must extend beyond the inner circle of tech companies and corporate interests to include a diverse array of experts from academia, nonprofit research labs, and civil society organizations. Policymakers need to recognize the wealth of expertise, technical knowledge, and profound policy thinking within the public interest community, as highlighted by the extensive evidence in the Shadow Report.

Alignment with the Shadow Report

We fully support the Shadow Report’s critique of the Senate’s industry-centric approach and its call for a legislative process grounded in democratic values and the public interest. The eleven substantive issues identified by the report underscore critical areas where policy action is needed.

Both the Shadow Report and Public Knowledge stress the necessity of robust regulatory frameworks for AI. Clear regulations are essential to protect the public and foster broad development and adoption. AI presents new and complex regulatory challenges, and Public Knowledge, with its decades of experience in technology and telecommunications regulation, argues for a dedicated digital regulator. This regulator, equipped with comprehensive oversight capabilities, would provide expert and adaptable regulation, complementing existing antitrust and sector-specific agency protections.

Additionally, both Public Knowledge and the Shadow Report call for legislation that actively protects privacy and civil rights and addresses systemic biases, particularly to safeguard vulnerable and marginalized communities…