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Washington Senator Maria Cantwell

Artificial intelligence research is going to have major effects on the world, one way or another, and Senator Maria Cantwell is working on legislation that would force the federal government to study its impact on employment.

Axios reported Monday that Cantwell recently circulated drafts of a proposed bill to require the U.S. Department of Commerce to form a committee focused on artificial intelligence, particularly with respect to how automation will affect the work force. GeekWire has obtained a draft of the bill, which would also ensure the federal government articulated a definition of AI in federal law.

The bill would define artificial intelligence as systems that think and act like humans or that are capable of unsupervised learning. It also differentiates between “artificial general intelligence,” or a system that “exhibits apparently intelligent behavior at least as advanced as a person across the full range of cognitive, emotional, and social behaviors,” and “narrow artificial intelligence,” such as self-driving cars or image recognition.

Washington, D.C., has long been behind the West Coast technology centers when it comes to evaluating the impact of new technologies. Artificial intelligence — running the gamut from automated retail checkout lanes to self-driving cars — has the potential to erase thousands and thousands of jobs over time, and that’s something the federal government will have to grapple with as these products start to become mainstream.

In fact, leading artificial intelligence companies seem like they’re trying to get ahead of the backlash. A consortium of investors, including Amazon Web Services, formed OpenAI in late 2015 to “advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.” And just Monday, Google announced that it would be launching a similar product called PAIR, or “People & AI Research,” to better manage expectations of what AI can and cannot do.

Senator Cantwell’s bill doesn’t call for any specific action, according to the report, but merely setting up an advisory committee would force the Commerce Department to start somewhere. Cantwell has not been shy about prodding the government and other politicians to improve their understanding of technology, warning then-candidate Hillary Clinton at our GeekWire Summit in 2015 that politicians need to respond to constituents much more quickly thanks to the nature of our current information age and just last week asking for help defending net neutrality laws.

A representative from Senator Cantwell’s office declined to comment on the draft bill but confirmed that a bill is in the works.

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