His remarks aired shortly after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took an aggressive tone about Beijing’s advances in AI development and regulation. It “would be profoundly dangerous to the United States from a national defense perspective, but also certainly from an economic perspective” if China leads the world on the technology, Cruz said Thursday.
Warner is worried the Chinese government will use AI on an “offensive basis, or on a misinformation and deceptive basis against the balance of the world.” He also noted that Beijing has a head start on both the U.S. and EU when it comes to regulating the fast-moving technology.
“China is very much ahead of the game in terms of self-regulating AI within their own nation-state,” he said.
China has already set up rules limiting the spread of deceptively manipulated images called deepfakes. And in April, its internet regulator released a proposal to govern generative AI systems such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a chatbot built on a large language model that has captured public imagination with its eerily human-like responses.
For Warner, that movement overseas demonstrates how Washington needs to act — and how the yawning regulatory gap around AI reminds many lawmakers about Capitol Hill’s previous technological stumbles.
“We don’t want to repeat, I think, some of the mistakes that were made in social media,” said Warner, who noted that Congress tried to set rules well after the platforms had already caused significant societal problems.
In the wake of the European Parliament’s passage of the EU AI Act on Wednesday, the bloc is now leading the Western world in terms of AI rules. Warner said he met with European members of Parliament two weeks ago to discuss transatlantic collaboration on a general set of guidelines. But the senator cautioned that the U.S. and its allies could diverge on some AI rules.
“At least initially, the Europeans have taken a fairly aggressive step about copyright enforcement, whereas some of our friends in Japan are taking almost an opposite view,” Warner said.
Warner said global collaboration on AI regulation “will be made easier if at least the Congress the United States weighs in in a bipartisan fashion, whether that is additional regulations” or “a new regulatory entity.”
Back home, even though Congress is paying attention to AI, the legislative approach remains fragmented.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of senators led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter announcing three briefings for the Senate on AI. But after attending the first of these sessions on Tuesday, Warner said the briefing was “AI 101” — a good session for someone “if they’ve never heard anything about AI other than reading the newsflash.”
Warner instead highlighted a bipartisan AI working group he belongs to that’s been looking at the issue for months, and emphasized that lawmakers will need to work across multiple committees to craft U.S. legislation about the technology.
And there’s a lot more at stake than creating rules in the U.S., the senator warned.
“We’ve seen when America doesn’t step up, that doesn’t mean there aren’t guardrails in place, it means we simply cede that leadership to other regimes,” Warner said.