Senate takes first steps to regulate AI in annual defense bill

The Senate this week took some initial steps toward regulating the use of artificial intelligence in the government as senators from both parties indicated they would push for amendments to the annual defense policy bill that seek to put some guardrails on the rapidly advancing technology.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is pushing for this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to contains a package of several amendments that includes one addressing several issues related to AI and national security.

Among the measures being proposed in the AI amendment is a ‘bug bounty’ system that would encourage white-hat hackers to help the Defense Department find vulnerabilities in the AI systems they use. This is an idea that Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., has worked on for more than a year.

‘We’re trying to put together a bounty system, where we find bugs that use AI, that we have alternative ways of protecting against them,’ Rounds told Fox News Digital on Wednesday.

Other ideas in the amendment are aimed at getting a better understanding of how the Pentagon uses AI and how it might defend against AI-generated threats. It includes language aimed at enhancing the government’s knowledge of its current AI capabilities and providing Congress and officials with a direction on where it’s headed by calling for various reports by Pentagon officials as well as financial regulators.

‘Artificial Intelligence is here right now, is used to defend our country today, our adversaries use it as well,’ Rounds said when asked to describe other provisions in the amendment. ‘What we want to do is to find out on a department-by-department basis where they’re using AI today, what their plans are, whether or not they have a series of solutions to protect our country against other people that are using AI.’

‘It’s also telling the Department of Defense that we want to find out what their long-term plan is for not just gathering the data that you can on AI but also in terms of how they’re going to coordinate all the related AI systems that they currently use or plan on using it in the future,’ Rounds said. ‘And finally, we’re talking about personnel … that understand AI and will incorporate AI in the future.’

Schumer has said for months that he wants the Senate to learn more about AI and that a broader bill to regulate AI would be coming soon, some time after more listening sessions take place in the fall. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Schumer praised this first initial step to attack the problem.

‘The Senate has already done important preliminary work to bring ourselves up to speed on this issue,’ he said. ‘But the NDAA will be the Senate’s first opportunity this year to pass real AI legislation.’

Rounds said the basis for the amendment’s proposals came from recommendations in an AI commission report from last year. These measures are not ‘all-inclusive,’ he said, but are a ‘very simple first step’ for the Senate to take.

AI has been a hot topic on Capitol Hill so far this year as tech executives have met publicly and privately with lawmakers who are discussing if and how to start regulating the technology.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed its version of the NDAA and included an AI provision by Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., which called for the Pentagon to launch a study into potential weak points in the U.S.’s military defenses that could be exploited by AI weaponized by foreign adversaries.

Other provisions in the House NDAA bill encourage the Defense Department to explore how it can use AI to boost U.S. national security.

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