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US: Congress must regulate artificial intelligence to protect rights

Groups urge for civil society and impacted communities to be consulted in regulation efforts

Human Rights Watch joins 86 human rights and civil rights organizations in urging Congress to take action on the significant human rights and societal risks created and enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, in a joint statement published today, October 17, 2023. The statement outlines some threats posed by AI to society, particularly to marginalized communities, and asks Congress to include civil society and affected communities in any legislative efforts and discussions around AI-focused regulation.

Letter to Congress, urging lawmakers to center the current impacts of AI technologies in conversations on AI regulation

Dear Honorable Senators and Representatives,

The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned about the risks that artificial intelligence (AI) and other automated decision-making systems pose to the well-being and rights of the American people. We welcome the intense attention that Congress is placing on these issues, and the inclusion of some key civil society representatives in the first Senate AI Insight Forum that took place on September 13th.

As Congress continues its examination of the opportunities and risks presented by AI, we urge legislators to consider the varied ways in which AI is already impacting our economy and society, particularly historically marginalized communities. We ask you to work closely with civil society to pursue legislation that achieves meaningful, rights-respecting AI accountability.

The risks posed by AI are not theoretical. AI already affects people’s access to economic opportunities and our civil rights and civil liberties. Time and again, AI tools that promise efficiency turn out to be inaccurate and biased, denying people the right to build their futures. Screening tools used by companies to streamline hiring, for example, have created barriers to employment for people with disabilities, women, older people, and people of color. Inaccuracies or poor design in AI systems can obstruct people’s access to sorely needed public benefits. The easy creation of manipulated video and audio is fueling consumer fraud and extortion schemes and raises critical questions for the election-related information environment and public discourse.

AI used in high-stakes decisions by law enforcement, immigration, and national security agencies can trample people’s civil rights and civil liberties: Americans have been arrested and incarcerated because police facial recognition systems made a wrong match, the overwhelming majority of them Black Americans. Generative AI tools can supplant the demand for creative work, threatening creators’ livelihoods. Meanwhile, the enormous energy and water requirements associated with large language models threaten efforts to combat climate change, while the unchecked use of Americans’ information to build these models threatens our privacy and the freedoms of speech and association.

For the United States to be a true global leader in AI, it must lead in responsible, rights-respecting innovation that directly addresses these myriad harms. We hope and expect that future AI Insight Forums, Congressional hearings, and legislation will center these issues and draw on the expertise of civil society and the communities most impacted by these technologies.

As public interest organizations dedicated to serving the interests of consumers, workers, families, voters, and the broader public, we stand ready to work with you to ensure that Congress’ AI efforts meet the needs of our society.


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