The latest letter doesn’t tie directly to the Algorithmic Accountability Act, but it is part of the same move by certain congressional members to craft legislation that would mitigate AI bias and the other harms of data-driven, automated systems. Notably, it comes amid mounting pressure for antitrust regulation. Earlier this month, the US Federal Trade Commission filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook for its “anticompetitive conduct and unfair methods of competition.” Over the summer, House Democrats published a 449-page report on Big Tech’s monopolistic practices.
The letter also comes in the context of rising geopolitical tensions. As US-China relations have reached an all-time low during the pandemic, US officials have underscored the strategic importance of emerging technologies like AI and 5G. The letter also raises this dimension, acknowledging Google’s leadership in AI and its role in maintaining US leadership. But it makes clear that this should not undercut regulatory action, a line of argument popularized by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “To ensure America wins the AI race,” the letter says, “American technology companies must not only lead the world in innovation; they must also ensure such innovation reflects our nation’s values.”
“Our letter should put everyone in the technology sector, not just Google, on notice that we are paying attention,” said Clarke in a statement to MIT Technology Review. “Ethical AI is the battleground for the future of civil rights. Our concerns about recent developments aren’t just about one person; they are about what the 21st century will look like if academic freedom and inclusion take a back seat to other priorities. We can’t mitigate algorithmic bias if we impede those who seek to research and study it.”