Sen. Chuck Schumer, who’s never seen a camera he didn’t want to jump in front of, held a closed-door meeting last week on artificial intelligence. What? Closed? To me, it suggests an agenda beyond paving the path to a fantastic future. At the meeting, Elon Musk warned that AI is a “civilization risk.” Mr. Schumer declared, “We can’t be like ostriches and put our heads in the sand.” They sound more like dodo birds.
One clue to the hidden agenda: Besides Mr. Musk and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, OpenAI’s CEO and other techies, the attendees included union leaders such as Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Liz Shuler of the AFL-CIO, Meredith Stiehm of the Writers Guild and two tech critics with “Humane” in their company names. Ugh. It looked like the ghosts of economics past had come to spook the spirit of economics future.
So of course it was held behind closed doors. It was as if the nascent AI companies were called into a meeting with a tough guy named Spike who listens and then says, “You wouldn’t want anything to happen to your nice companies there, would you?” Or as if the union representatives of the horse-drawn-trolley conductors, rail-gauge manufacturers and manure sweepers were sitting in car-design meetings, demanding full employment for their guilds.
Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Politicians might have demanded to tax horses based on speed. Back then, no one appreciated the potential for those rickety automobiles to transform the economy. We’re at the same juncture with AI today.