Danger to AI innovation from state and local involvement

4 min read

In the race to shape policies for the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence (AI), state and local leaders are forging ahead with proposals that could hinder rather than foster the next technological revolution. As the U.S. Congress grapples with partisan gridlock, the void is being filled by a patchwork of state-level regulations, potentially impeding America’s innovative prowess in AI and computational technologies at a time when global competitors, notably China, are surging ahead.

The surge in state AI-related bills reflects the urgency to claim a stake in the AI landscape. From September 2022 to September 2023, there was a staggering 440 percent increase in the introduction of state AI-related bills. However, this wave of legislative activity is marked by a wide range of measures, with some advocating for in-depth studies of AI issues, while others propose imposing comprehensive regulations on AI technologies and companies.

Contradictory State Proposals: A Regulatory Quandary

States like New York exemplify the regulatory quandary, where contradictory proposals coexist. Governor Kathy Hochul’s ambitious “Empire AI” envisions a $400 million consortium for AI development. While grand industrial policies often have a checkered history, Hochul’s proposal at least aims to boost AI systems’ development within the state.

Simultaneously, however, New York lawmakers have introduced the “robot tax act,” suggesting tax penalties for employers if algorithms or computer applications are deemed responsible for job displacement. Such contradictory measures create uncertainty for AI entrepreneurs and risk stifling innovation.

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California’s Regulatory Push: A Potential National Impact

On the West Coast, California is at the forefront of proposing regulations for AI systems used in hiring decisions. Recent bills seek to empower the state’s Department of Technology to establish standards related to safety, privacy, and nondiscrimination for AI services. This not only places California in a regulatory leadership position but also has the potential to influence AI policies nationally.

Risk of Crushing Innovation: A Pileup of Red Tape

With influential states like New York and California swiftly moving towards regulation, a mosaic of state-level regulations looms large. Entrepreneurs in the algorithmic space face the threat of being entangled in red tape and escalating compliance costs, diverting their focus from global competition. The need for a streamlined federal legislative environment is evident to establish cohesive national AI policies.

The Urgent Call for Federal Leadership

In an ideal scenario, Congress would lay down fundamental guidelines for national AI policy, curbing the scope of state and local government regulation. The national reach of AI technologies requires a unified approach, fostering the free flow of computational commerce crucial for a robust American marketplace. The absence of federal guidance has led to a proliferation of state-level measures, reminiscent of the potential hindrance faced by the internet, personal computing, or e-commerce under a patchwork of conflicting state policies.

Bipartisan Collaboration Needed for a Pro-Innovation Framework

To maintain its global leadership in AI and computational technologies, the U.S. must adopt policies that promote innovation and investment. While state lawmakers play a role, a principled, pro-innovation federal framework is essential. Bipartisan actions akin to those that propelled the U.S. to digital leadership in previous decades are urgently required to create a cohesive and positive innovation culture for AI.

In conclusion, the current vacuum in federal leadership on AI policy allows a deluge of state-level measures that could shape America’s new technology policy framework. To secure its position as a global leader in AI, the U.S. needs cohesive, innovation-centric policies. Whether achieved through state initiatives or federal intervention, the goal remains the same – to foster an environment that propels the U.S. to the forefront of the AI revolution.

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