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Senate Democrats pass AI bill over Lamont's objections

This illustration picture shows the AI (Artificial Intelligence) smartphone app ChatGPT surrounded by other AI App in Vaasa, on June 6, 2023.
Oliver Morin
/
Getty
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The Senate Democratic majority defied Gov. Ned Lamont Wednesday night by passing a complex bill intended to put Connecticut at the forefront of evolving national efforts to set standards for the development and use of artificial intelligence.

The surprise, 24-12 party-line vote comes two days after a proffered compromise failed to assuage the governor’s concerns that the measure was premature, best left to a federal or multi-state effort, and potentially damaging to economic development in a state trying to nurture a technology sector.

“We know that nothing we’re doing here today is going to change the world. The world has always been changing and it always will be,” said Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, the bill’s sponsor. But, he added, “Today we’re doing our piece to make sure the world is changing for the good.”

The vote was an unusually public break with the Democratic governor and, to a lesser degree, House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, in the final and often frenzied two weeks of the legislature’s session. The Senate is not meeting again until Tuesday.

Maroney and the Senate’s two top leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney of New Haven and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk, are flying early Thursday to a legislative conference on artificial intelligence in Palo Alto, Calif.

By designating the AI bill as Senate Bill 2, Looney and Duff had labeled Maroney’s effort as a priority of the majority caucus.

Lamont’s office declined comment on the Senate vote, standing by its statement on Monday that “the governor remains concerned that this is a fast moving space and that we need to make sure we do this right and don’t stymie innovation.”

Ritter warned Maroney last week he was unlikely to call a vote on the bill without him addressing the Lamont administration’s concerns with the first seven sections of the bill. Maroney narrowed the bill, but not nearly enough to bring the governor on board.

“He’s a tremendous legislator. So it’s particularly difficult,” Ritter said Wednesday of Maroney, a former House member who has established an expertise on data privacy and artificial intelligence. “We’re stuck between him and the governor.”

By not calling the bill for a vote in the House, Ritter could save the governor from explicitly threatening a veto — something Lamont generally is loathe to do. But with the Senate’s passage, Ritter indicated an openness to calling the bill unless the Lamont administration says what it so far only has hinted.

“They’re gonna have to say, ‘We would veto the bill,’ ” Ritter said.

Senate Bill 2 would make Connecticut fill a regulatory void left by congressional inaction over the rapidly growing field of AI, including its role in devising the decision-making algorithms in hiring, student admissions, lending, and identifying targets in criminal investigations.

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee and a member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, said the bill was necessary to ensure that discrimination is not amplified by algorithms generated by artificial intelligence.

“We have biases built into our society, and AI picks up on it,” Winfield said.

Among other things, the bill would set a deadline of July 1, 2025, for developers to take “reasonable care to protect consumers from any known or reasonably foreseeable risks of algorithmic discrimination.” It also would penalize the use of AI to place real people in realistic, deep-fake videos portraying them doing and saying things they never did.

The Consumer Technology Association, a trade group that represents more than 1,000 tech companies, most of them small or mid-sized, is opposed to the bill, but Microsoft and IBM favor it, and Maroney said Wednesday that Google has shifted from opposed to neutral.

Republicans lined up Wednesday to oppose the bill as well-intended, but premature.

“I fear that this legislation is full of unintended consequences, potential unintended consequences,” said Senate Minority Leader Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield.

Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, noted the several years it took for the state to adopt a data privacy law — learning from different entities and bringing stakeholders to the table, notably those with objections.

“I dearly want to support this bill. I believe it’s important,” Hwang said. “But I am not comfortable making a decision and voting out a bill, and patting myself on the back and saying, ‘We did something,’ when I’m not really sure what we’re doing and how it’s going to impact the people.”

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he saw the bill as unnecessary and possible harmful.

“I want Connecticut to be known as a state where it’s exciting for entrepreneurs to come and come up with new technology,” Kissel said. “Not a nanny state, where we are going to drill down on every business that has 50 or more employees, saying, ‘What kind of software do you have? And has it inadvertently harmed anybody along the way? And please report to the government on what’s going on.”

“It has way too many unanswered questions,” said Sen. Jeff Gordon, R-Woodstock, who is a physician.

Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, who also is a physician, seemed to have Gordon in mind when he argued that passage was timely, if not overdue. Insurance companies already are using algorithms to deny medical claims within a second of filing.

“We are already too late. Bad things are already happening,” Anwar said. “Not doing a bill on this topic would be malpractice on the part of the legislative body.”

Looney said the bill is like AI, something that will evolve.

“There will be refinements,” Looney said. “There will be alterations. There will be new issues that are not addressed in the bill here tonight.”

This story was first published April 24, 2024 by the Connecticut Mirror.

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