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Tue, Mar 05

Talking with the Experts: DC’s Academic Roundtable to Solve the Biggest Problems in AI

When it comes to figuring out how to respond to emerging technologies, Congress has often called upon the same handful of billionaires and companies to solicit their opinions. This conversation has lacked other key voices: the academics who have been studying these problems and proposing solutions for years. The AI in Society and for Democracy Roundtable changed that.

Congressman Ro KhannaI attended the AI in Society and for Democracy Roundtable in Washington, D.C. with Professor Nita Farahany as a representative member of the Science, Law and Policy (SLAP) Lab. AI academics like Fei Fei Li, Ayanna Howard, and Noah Feldman met with Congressman Ro Khanna to discuss how to both mitigate the risks and capture the benefits of AI at a national level. It was an opportunity for expert voices to be heard, included, and influential in the conversation of how to protect and promote civil rights in the digital age through thoughtful and well-informed law and policy.

The roundtable focused on three major issues: (1) how to ensure workers are protected and benefit economically in the age of AI; (2) how to evaluate the duty of care and safeguards for the public against deceptive and manipulative AI; and (3) how to prepare American society—especially children—for an AI-integrated world and the role of education in enabling digital citizenship and promoting mental health. Proposed ideas included having Congress incentivize AI that augments—rather than replaces—human beings and their values, establish a government agency for AI oversight, and draft legislation aimed at preventing the loss of trust in elections due to deepfakes. Through respectful dialogue, AI scholars and Congress worked together to explore concrete solutions based on academic theory.

It was impressive to see how the academics were able to succinctly convey years of research in just a 90-minute meeting, all while maintaining respect and civility when they disagreed on certain points (Congressman Khanna even commented how it was a model conversation for Congress). Congressman Khanna concluded the meeting with how he wanted academics to be a continued resource for Congress to tap into and help address the challenges of AI.

The DC Roundtable was a paradigm of how academic voices can be incorporated and directly affect the law and policy world. Research has the power to inform and help determine how our government responds to social injustices like those from emerging tech. This experience has inspired me to pursue a career where I can also contribute thoughtful research to be used for positive social impact with AI. Hopefully, we convinced Congress that the US needs to catch up with the rest of the world in adopting more rigorous and explicit AI policies that protect and promote our civil liberties.

Jenna Wong, Duke MA in Tech Ethics & Policy

Jenna WongJenna explores the nexus of technology and ethics by concentrating in Technology Ethics in Duke’s Master of Arts in Bioethics & Science Policy, by pursuing research opportunities with Science & Society faculty, and engaging with technology companies in Durham.

DISCLAIMER: These reflections represent the views of the student and not necessarily the views of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society or the Bioethics & Science Policy Masters Program. Our program represents myriad views and ideologies and we welcome open discussion on potentially controversial subject matter as it relates to society.