- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2023

New artificial intelligence tools will let lobbyists hack the lawmaking process and insert unnoticed text that benefits hidden power brokers, a pair of Harvard-based technologists say.

While the sort of hacks that grab Congress’ attention usually involve computer intrusions, Harvard’s Nathan E. Sanders and Bruce Schneier warn that lobbyists catering to narrow interests with AI-powered microlegislation will game the policymaking system.

Congress’ pattern of advancing large bills that lawmakers view as must-pass is vulnerable to lobbyists using AI tools to author small modifications to law that are difficult for legislators to detect but deliver big returns for the lobbyists’ high-paying clients, the technologists wrote for MIT Technology Review.

“Today, it can take a highly paid team of human lobbyists days or weeks to generate and analyze alternative pieces of microlegislation on behalf of a client,” Mr. Sanders and Mr. Schneier wrote. “With AI assistance, that could be done instantaneously and cheaply. This opens the door to dramatic increases in the scope of this kind of microlegislating, with a potential to scale across any number of bills in any jurisdiction.”

Proposing policy, assessing its impact and consequences, and crafting a strategy to turn the proposal into law are functions of lobbying that the technologists say AI tools can perform efficiently.

Such AI tech will make it possible for lobbyists to cover broader ground, blocking and tackling for clients in multiple venues.

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“While individual lobbyists tend to focus on the federal level or a single state, with AI assistance they could more easily infiltrate a large number of state-level (or even local-level) law-making bodies and elections,” Mr. Sanders and Mr. Schneier wrote. “At that level, where the average cost of a seat is measured in the tens of thousands of dollars instead of millions, a single donor can wield a lot of influence — if automation makes it possible to coordinate lobbying across districts.”

Mr. Sanders is a data scientist affiliated with Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center. Mr. Schneier is a security-focused technologist who lectures at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he is also a fellow.

For now, the technologists’ warning appears largely theoretical. They have not observed lobbying firms deploying such technology — yet.

Mr. Schneier, author of “A Hacker’s Mind,” said tax and regulatory legislation is where he anticipates lobbyists may deploy AI tools first, as taxation and regulation are issues that can provide a financial windfall for clients and lobbyists.

He said the same artificial intelligence that generates legislative text could be used to develop detection tools to spot text not written by a human, but he noted wealthy interests may be best positioned to use generative and detection tools.

The functions of lobbying that Mr. Sanders and Mr. Schneier say artificial intelligence cannot yet perform involve access and financing, the relationships that Washington insiders live on.

AI-assisted capabilities may assist those looking to determine who to strategically target and how to influence them, as the duo previously wrote for Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.

To combat negative outcomes from AI-assisted lobbying, the authors propose improved detection and greater disclosure requirements for lobbying activity. Defensive AI that tracks anomalous lobbying spending associated with legislative amendments and greater disclosure requirements revealing lobbyists’ private actions are suggestions the technologists think may limit any damage.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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