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Cruz blocks Hawley’s AI bill, saying it’d harm innovation

BY: REBECCA KERN | 12/13/2023 01:28 PM EST

Sen. Ted Cruz blocked a bill that would make tech companies liable for content created with their artificial intelligence tools, saying it would harm America’s leadership in the global race on AI development.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) went to the Senate floor on Wednesday to use an expedited voting process — known as unanimous consent — to move his bill co-written with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The two-page bill that never got a committee vote would prevent content created by generative AI technologies, like ChatGPT, from being protected under tech’s broad liability shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The move by Hawley — which he does to get attention on his bills that haven’t moved through committee — was not expected to pass, and Cruz’s objection officially stopped the measure from reaching the floor.

Pressure to regulate: The bill was written in response to the growing ethical concerns posed by generative AI, which can be used to generate fake images and videos. There’s also a concern the technology could be used to spread misinformation heading into the 2024 election, with campaigns already starting to use AI chatbot callers.

As the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Cruz (R-Texas) said the bill needs to move through regular order and hasn’t had a hearing.

Cruz said he’d be happy to work with Hawley on the bill, but they need to make sure they’re legislating on AI “in a way that would be effective.”

‘Dangerous’ to rush to legislate AI: Cruz said the U.S. needs to continue to lead in AI development, especially against China. He said Democrats particularly want the government to play a “very heavy hand” in passing AI regulations, referring to efforts by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I think that’s dangerous, I want America to continue to lead in innovation,” he said. “It would be bad for America if China became dominant in AI.”

Cruz said $38 billion has been invested in American AI startups in 2023 alone — more than twice as much as the rest of the world combined.

Cruz wants targeted Section 230 reform: Republicans and Democrats have largely disagreed on how to reform tech’s decades-old Section 230 protections. Republicans like Cruz are pushing for social media companies to carry more speech, alleging they censor conservative viewpoints. Democrats, meanwhile, want to change the 1996 law to hold tech companies liable for harmful content posted on their platforms, like hate speech and terrorist content.

Cruz said Hawley’s bill was overly broad — and he’d be open to working with Hawley next year on more targeted reforms to Section 230 and AI. “I don’t want to harm AI, I don’t want to prevent its uses,” Cruz told POLITICO after the floor debate.

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