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Amazon wants U.S. policymakers to tread carefully with artificial intelligence regulation and to balance the risks and benefits of AI going forward.
Amazon supports risk-based regulatory approaches, said David Zapolsky, senior vice president of global public policy and general counsel at Amazon. He said there's an opportunity to build consensus on AI risks and the use cases to be concerned about. Zapolsky spoke during The Intersect: A Tech and Policy Summit hosted by the Information Technology Industry Council on Wednesday.
Zapolsky said once those use cases have been identified, policymakers can work backward from those specific use cases to "build the right regulatory guardrails and voluntary best practices that will prevent the harms we're all concerned might happen."
David ZapolskySenior vice president of global public policy, general counsel, Amazon
"You need to spell out what is the use case that you're worried about, what's the bad thing you're trying to stop," he said.
Balancing AI regulation
High-risk AI use cases do exist, which is an area policymakers can focus on when it comes to AI regulation, Zapolsky said.
"Anytime you're using this type of technology to make decisions about health and safety, or civil rights, things that could profoundly change someone's life, you have to move very carefully and make sure you are using it with the utmost responsibility, safety and security," he said.
However, it's difficult to preemptively regulate risks that don't exist yet -- something that could hamper innovation down the road, Zapolsky said.
"It's a particularly fraught exercise to start regulating something you don't really understand and doesn't really exist yet, because you could shut off some potentially favorable uses of the technology that could save lives or make people's lives much better," he said. "It's a balance."
Amazon uses AI throughout its business operations, from allowing enterprise business customers to access large language models within its AWS cloud service to launching a generative AI-powered shopping assistant called Rufus for its retail platform. It's not the only tech giant with stakes in AI, as Microsoft, Apple, Google and other companies vie for leadership positions with the latest advancements such as generative AI.
Amazon agreed to voluntary U.S. commitments for managing AI risks outlined by President Joe Biden last year. These commitments included testing AI systems for safety pre-release and developing watermarking systems to indicate when content is AI-generated. Google, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, Anthropic and Inflection also agreed to these commitments, and Meta this week said it plans to label AI-generated images on its social media platforms.
Addressing AI risks will fall to private sector in short term
Congress has yet to agree on an approach to AI regulation, and in the near term, it will likely fall to the private sector to address AI concerns, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said. Lofgren spoke during the Intersect 2024 summit.
"It's not going to eliminate the need for regulation," Lofgren said. "But I think the private sector is going to carry us a little bit farther, and also bad actors will tell us more of what we need to be worried about, while Congress continues to be dysfunctional."
As Congress continues to mull AI regulation heading into 2024, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Congress needs to focus on regulating the use of AI instead of the technology itself. Blackburn also spoke during the Intersect 2024 summit.
Congressional legislation will create the environment for jobs and growth in AI, and it needs to strike the balance between AI risks and promoting innovation and competing with China, she said.
"My hope is we focus on the environment, we put the guardrails in place, and that we realize if we are not allowing innovation, China is," Blackburn said.
Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget Editorial, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.