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Montana lawmakers need to get ahead of the AI curve

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Montana lawmakers need to get ahead of the AI curve

Apr 16, 2024 | 6:41 am ET
By Joe Taylor
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Montana lawmakers need to get ahead of the AI curve
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Photo illustration of artificial intelligence (Illustration by Deepak Pal via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0 DEED; credit also: www.iqlect.com.)

Artificial intelligence is often lauded as “the next industrial revolution.” This evocation typically follows with an often very optimistic view of past industrial revolutions with an emphasis on productivity and the improved standards of living they produced. Less emphasis is given to the human cost paid to produce those ends.

The first industrial revolution began in this country in 1793 when Samuel Slater built a water powered textile mill in Rhode Island. The system of factory labor that followed was a largely unregulated endeavor that was both dehumanizing and dangerous for its workers. Initially, the forces of law and government generally worked to the benefit of only the captains of industry who created this  exploitative industrial system. It isn’t really until around 100 years after the arrival of this first “modern” factory in the country, during the Populist movement of the 1890-1900s, that laws curbing the worst excesses of the industrial system came into force.

Now, as we watch the collective growth of AI, I worry that the forces of law and government will again run 100 years behind curbing the technologies worst uses. The more trivial sections of the web are now riddled with AI generated clickbait content pretending to be human. Political campaigns are using AI to make even more ads and write even more fundraising emails. Less trivial though, with the recent New Hampshire primary as an example, we’ve seen generative AI turned toward political disinformation. Thankfully that particular piece was caught before any real damage was done.

The executive branch has also taken some executive action to curb these worse uses. Unfortunately, there is a limit to what executive action alone can accomplish. Our national legislative body also appears uninterested or simply unable to do much of anything for the foreseeable future. Therefore it seems prudent to see what we as an individual state can do to help set some precedent around this new technology.

Full disclosure, I am not a lawyer or lawmaker. My hope is at least one reads this and can offer some critiques to the feasibility and more specificity on how these laws should look. Having said that, here are some basic ideas to consider:

First, making it a crime to use AI to impersonate someone in the context of a political campaign.

The people responsible for the fake Biden call are currently under criminal investigation, so we will have to see what existing laws are used to try and hold them to account. But having seen this trick once it is simply naive not to expect it again. Fraudulently swaying peoples votes strikes at the heart of our political system necessitating some basic and specific guard rails.

Second, require any government office, media organization, political campaign or super pac to disclose when something is produced with generative AI. With the rise of this technology the certainty of knowing you are receiving information from an actual human decreases daily. There are likely going to be sectors of the economy and internet where knowing you are communicating with a real person becomes a privilege. As much as we can and as a matter of basic dignity, we need to try and codify this as a right.

I don’t mean to try and catastrophize this issue or the technology. I am a lover of science fiction who certainly hopes AI fulfills the rosier aspirations we are constantly told this next industrial revolution will bring. However, I worry about the short-term human cost as we adjust.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take 100 years this time.

Taylor lives in Frenchtown.