So what was the hearing really about? For me, it was in large measure an early example of reaction to the realization that, yes, AIs are starting to run the world. Billions of people are being fed content that is basically selected for them by AIs, and there are mounting concerns about this, as reported almost every day in the media.
Are the AIs cleverly hacking us humans to get us to behave in a certain way? What kind of biases do the AIs have, relative to what the world is like, or what we think the world should be like? What are the AIs optimizing for, anyway? And when are there actually “humans behind the curtain”, controlling in detail what the AIs are doing?
It doesn’t help that in some sense the AIs are getting much more free rein than they might because the people who use them aren’t really their customers. I have to say that back when the internet was young, I personally never thought it would work this way, but in today’s world many of the most successful businesses on the internet—including Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter—make their revenue not from their users, but instead from advertisers who are going through them to reach their users.
All these business also have in common that they are fundamentally what one can call “automated content selection businesses”: they work by getting large amounts of content that they didn’t themselves generate, then using what amounts to AI to automatically select what content to deliver or to suggest to any particular user at any given time—based on data that they’ve captured about that user. Part of what’s happening is presumably optimized to give a good experience to their users (whatever that might mean), but part of it is also optimized to get revenue from the actual customers, i.e. advertisers. And there’s also an increasing suspicion that somehow the AI is biased in what it’s doing—maybe because someone explicitly made it be, or because it somehow evolved that way.