Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Top tech CEOs discuss future of AI on Capitol Hill


A who's who of the tech industry gathered behind closed doors today on Capitol Hill. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were among more than 20 guests who debated regulation of artificial intelligence. Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.


CHUCK SCHUMER: This was an amazing and historic experience where we learned so much, where we began our quest to deal with this so important looming issue, AI.

KELLY: Beginning their quest. So the meeting is part of a bigger focus in the U.S. Senate on what to do about AI. NPR's congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is here to tell us about what happened today. Hey there.


KELLY: So it's unusual to see a group of CEOs all coming together like this, all in Washington on Capitol Hill. What was the thinking?

GRISALES: Well, this is an urgent moment for AI because there's still so many unknowns here. Elon Musk, the controversial CEO of Tesla and X - formerly known as Twitter - warned of, quote, "civilizational risk" or threats to humanity, while others in the room talked about protecting workers or vulnerable groups. There were other speakers who were more optimistic this could unlock cures for cancer, for example. Bill Gates, the philanthropist and ex-Microsoft CEO, suggested AI could address the hungry, while others said it could boost national security and defense. This is Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the room that the government is ultimately responsible for playing a regulatory role, and the U.S. should keep leading in this technology.

KELLY: We said this was all behind closed doors today. How much was actually public?

GRISALES: Well, the press was allowed to enter the room at the top of the meeting. And what I saw was a long table of panelists, including Musk and Zuckerberg. And they were seated far apart because, you know, they're not best buds, mind you.

KELLY: No cage match today, yeah.

GRISALES: (Laughter) Exactly. So they were facing rows of seats set out for senators to sit and listen in. But many speakers shared their remarks with reporters outside of the room afterwards. One of those people was Liz Shuler, who heads up the AFL-CIO.


LIZ SHULER: That was part of my job in the room - is to say, look; we want to be partners. We want to be at the front end of this process so that we're not just implementing technology and workers having to sit back and take it. It's about a co-creation process. And that was very well-received.

GRISALES: Senators described the tone of the discussions as frank, nonpartisan and spirited.

KELLY: Well, that all sounds promising. Did they actually come to any concrete agreements?

GRISALES: Well, Leader Schumer, who moderated the discussion, said senators did get consensus on some things. He said everyone on the panel agreed the government should play a role regulating AI, and they should put in guardrails. He also said there was a consensus to balance the government's role in enhancing AI's benefits against limiting the risks - that is, boosting transformational innovation, which again gets into discussions of aiding the hungry, the sick, while also addressing sustainable innovation, or minimizing bias, loss of jobs, or some of these doomsday scenarios that came up in the room today.

KELLY: Again, I was struck by Senator Schumer and what he said about that they're just beginning their quest...


KELLY: ...To deal with the important issue of AI. What are they actually planning to do with this information? What's the next step?

GRISALES: Well, so Schumer says, for his group's part, they have more forums to come, and at least some of these will be public. He said they're months away from drafting legislation. But we should note, Congress has a lackluster history of regulating emerging tech, and they also lack expertise here. And these are pretty partisan times. Already, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has spoken out against some of the ideas being proposed. That said, Schumer says he's been in touch with McCarthy, and he was encouraged that perhaps there is a bipartisan path forward.

KELLY: We will see how far that path extends. NPR's Claudia Grisales reporting for us on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.