- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2018


Early this year, Rep. John Delaney wrote a piece for TechCrunch.com pressing for Congress to get serious about artificial intelligence and take “proactive” steps to make sure this fast-moving technology industry is “good for working people, good for businesses and good for our economy and that it’s implemented in an ethical way,” he said.

He might have mentioned the mucho money ties his fellow Artificial Intelligence Caucus members would stand to gain in the process.

But he didn’t.

So here goes.

Democrat Delaney in May 2017 launched a so-called bipartisan AI Caucus to deal with what he described as “one of the paradigm-shifting developments of the next century,” the global press toward artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotic engineering and so forth.

“In my view,” he said then in a written statement, “there is tremendous potential for AI to be a positive transformational force, but also understandable concern about the impact that disruption could have on existing jobs.”

True. AI has the potential to reshape not just the economy, but also the culture — and not just domestically, in America, but around the world.

Here are the other members who joined Delaney in mid-2017 on this AI Caucus: Reps. Pete Olson, co-founder; Jared Polis; Derek Kilmer; Anna Eshoo; Andre Carson; and Debbie Dingell. Aside from Olson, they’re all Democrats.

And here are some of these members’ campaign finance records, via the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org site: Polis received a total of $73,250 from the Foundry Group between 2007 and 2018, with $10,800 coming between 2017-2018 alone; and $5,400 from the Secure World Foundation and $2,700 from Alphabet Inc. in the 2017-2018 cycle. The Foundry Group is a venture capital firm that makes investments in technology, and was recently listed by CB Insights as an investor in the AI-fueled travel app Pana and as a backer of the AI-powered music writing startup, Amper.

Secure World Foundation, meanwhile, is a nonprofit dedicated to regulating outer space in order to ensure its sustainability for future generations — a group that is only likely to grow in influence as the global race for AI dominance, satellite control and technology expands and heats.

And Alphabet? Alphabet’s the parent company of Google, a leading player in the quest for AI creation.

That’s just Polis.

Kilmer, between 2017 and 2018, received $19,200 from Microsoft and $10,500 from Boeing — two companies that sent representatives to the National Business Aviation Association in Las Vegas in October 2017 to outline their respective artificial intelligence pursuits, and two companies that continue to be major players in the AI development game.

Dingell received $15,200 from Boeing as well, during the 2017-2018 campaign cycle. And Delaney?

Delaney’s running for president in 2020 and won’t be affiliated with the AI Caucus much longer. But his career rack of $70,600 from JPMorgan Chase & Co., received between 2011 and 2018, is notable. JPMorgan isn’t simply a bank.

In August 2017, Business Insider ran a story with this headline: “JPMorgan takes AI use to the next level.”

In October 2017, Bloomberg wrote this: “JPMorgan Taps AI Startup to Help Traders Predict Market Moves.”

And in March 2017, Futurism reported that “An AI Completed 360,000 Hours of Finance Work in Just Seconds,” in a story of JPMorgan’s “machine learning” successes due to its new program called COIN, Contract Intelligence.

On top of all that?

JPMorgan on its own website touts its use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to aid its company’s investment decisions.

Then there’s this, a CNBC announcement from May 2017 about the creation of this AI Caucus: “Lawmakers aim to ‘get smart’ about A.I. with help from giants like Amazon, Google, and IBM.”

If the goal of the AI Caucus is to hear from the best and the brightest about the state of artificial intelligence creation, it makes perfect sense for congressional members to huddle with the likes of Amazon, Google and IBM. They’re giants in technology; they’re leading giants in the AI charge.

But if the goal of the AI Caucus is to also shape and suggest congressional and White House policy and regulation — as it is, as it will be — the idea of Amazon, Google and IBM huddling with lawmakers is a bit of a red flag. It’s worthy of a transparency check, at the very least. In terms of hot topic politics, it’d be a bit like seeing Republicans fashion climate change policy based solely on the recommendations of oil executives or, determine Planned Parenthood funding on the budgeting advice of Christian Coalition members, and expect those across the ideological aisle to nod and smile.

It’s much the same for AI. Americans should know who stands most to gain. And on that score, red flags are a flyin.’

Delaney, in his piece for TechCrunch.org, also referred to the Future of AI Act and its call for the creation of a 19-member advisory committee within the Department of Commerce as a surefire means of getting the whole artificial intelligence field under the control of a concerned Congress.

“The committee is required to have academics, technologists, labor organizations and civil liberties groups represented, as well as people from all parts of the country,” he wrote.

These members will have the somber duty of determining for Congress and the White House how best America can invest in AI, how best to protect America’s workforce from AI, how best to keep AI free from bias, and how best to keep AI from infringing upon civil liberties, privacies and individual rights.

Well and good.

Then, there’s this, again the unstated: Sen. Maria Cantwell, the key Democratic sponsor of this bill, has received a career total of $388,689 in donations from Microsoft and $147,809 from Boeing. Those were her first and third top contributors on the OpenSecrets.org site, respectively, for campaign funds received between 1991 and 2018.

Not saying that congressional members can’t make money on the fast-growing field of artificial intelligence. But Americans turning to policy-makers on Capitol Hill for leadership in this area ought be aware: There’s money to be made in AI. Lots of money. And not all the watchdogs who say they’re in it for the little people come conflict-of-interest free.

Cheryl Chumley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @ckchumley.

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